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SHARON HARTNETT, PET DESIGNER: The founder of Wool & Kashmir, with her creations.


Design Goes to the Dogs and Cats

By Joseph Rosenfeld

THE TRUTH about dogs and cats is that we absolutely adore and dote on our pets with our love, time and dollars. The pet indulgence market, which includes fashions for our four-legged friends, is a multibillion dollar industry in the United States alone.

San Jose is home to a very special kind of "Créateur pour les animaux de compagnie," otherwise known as a designer for pets. Sharon Hartnett, a soft-spoken woman with sparkly eyes and a caring smile, is the founder and owner of Wool & Kashmir, a couture studio for dogs and cats.

"Pets today are on a whole different plane than they used to be," says Hartnett." And sketches of pet fashion concepts strewn throughout her studio are evidence of it. Hand-knit swatches of pet-oriented sweaters are pinned up to the wall like a storyboard in a fashion designer's New York office. And her silvery hued, sweetheart cat, Wool, has run of the place. As people are demanding more fashionable items for their precious pets, more discerning owners are putting them into Hartnett's couture creations.

Hartnett says she looks to "couture fashion designers that I think represent great style. If you were looking for a really high-end couture sweater for your pet, that [great style] would be something you'd want. What's in season is what I do." Her sophisticated styles translate trends that are found in current fashion. "Normally when you're designing, you're looking at what's going on around you, what's happening on the street, around the world, in politics." So Hartnett scours the lines of her favorite designers to inspire her seasonal collections. "Missoni is always my top inspiration because they do so much in knits." But she also takes ideas from Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior and Michael Kors, looking at what's happening with trims and accents from the runway. When there's a trend with buttons, beads, pockets or zippers, Hartnett finds ways of applying them to fashions for Fido.

Hartnett started knitting when she was rather young, learning from a woman she met as a Brownie and from her mother, who also taught her how to sew by hand before she learned on a machine. When knitting machines became popular in the 1980s, she bought one and "played with it for a year solid. I enjoyed it because it was creative." She also learned how to design knits by using a software program and her Mac, then "went to the knitting machine and created swatches out of my designs."

A wife and a mother of grown children, Hartnett went back to college to get a second degree in fashion design and apparel manufacturing. Before long, she was teaching computer-aided design courses at the very school where she earned her degree. She dabbled in painting oils when she realized how much she missed knitting. "It exercises your brain, your capabilities with math. It's very hands on, very mental, adjusting things [clothing patterns and designs] to various sizes. It's like putting puzzles together. So I got hooked," she said.

Originally Hartnett set out to make pet beds and blankets. She still makes them, but knitwear for dogs is what fuels her fire. Comfort is a cornerstone of Wool & Kashmir's designs. "I want clothes to fit well on people and on pets," she says. Hartnett considers a dog's range of motion, its coat (some are furless, others have very thin coats), and whether the dog will put its head through a neck opening. She notes that as pets age, they tend not to retain as much body heat, so her couture creations are practical yet fashion conscious. Even her use of materials is of serious consideration, and she takes pride in using eco-friendly fibers. "I'm a perfectionist and want to make sure people get the most interesting, well-fitting, environmentally friendly, comfortable thing for their pet that nobody else's pet has," she said.

Wool & Kashmir's couture creations range in price from $130 to over $500 depending on the size of the knit item and the yarns used. Now that's what I call heavy petting.

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