When Anastasia Torres-Gil, high fashion designer for dogs, cuts into a Louis Vuitton handbag to make it into a Chihuahua pillbox hat, there is, occasionally, a pang of regret.
"I have to shut my eyes and cut into something I used to love," Torres-Gil says. "But, it's just fabric. My motto is: 'If I wouldn't wear it myself, I wouldn't put it on a dog.'"
In fact, re-purposing lightly used designer fashions has evolved into an almost chic and often hilarious line of unique dog outfits on sale at Torres-Gil's new online company, My Favorite Couture (www.myfavoritecouture.com).
The quickly expanding line of canine couture includes a variety of outfits still sporting original labels such as Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, Chanel and Burberry. Everything is created from items that Torres-Gil finds in local, used clothes stores and her own closet. She accents outfits with accessories like decoupage buttons, rhinestones, baubles and used table cloths.
"Santa Cruz has amazing thrift stores," she said. "The quality of things people throw out."
Her eclectic collection includes a rainbow Pride Day outfit, a Harley-Davidson vest and cap and, occasionally, a matching outfit for a dog's human counterpart.
Most recently she created a last-minute outfit for her husband, Rafael, and their gray "plus-sized" dog Coco, a pug/yorkie mix that resembles Yoda from Star Wars. Last week the pair won third place in a dog/owner look-alike contest on the television show "Sabado Gigante." Torres-Gil said the competition was "formidable."
The first time Torres-Gil, a former prosecutor and labor lawyer, made a doggy hoodie from an old designer purse and put it on Coco, she broke into laughter.
"I like to play it straight. I'll have Coco snorting but looking very fashionable; the contradiction of something really fancy on her is really funny for me."
Torres-Gil currently recruits and works to retain foster parents for Santa Cruz County children. She spends much of her time sewing, painting and collecting odds and ends for her artwork. Her Santa Cruz backyard studio is next to a mini duck pool for her two rescued ducks and the sleeping area of an 18-year-old potbelly pig, also rescued. Cats and four dogs — all rescued — live there as well.
Twenty-five percent of sales are earmarked for the Santa Cruz SPCA to help with a capital campaign for a new facility. Torres-Gil outfits are part of a monthly photo shoot with SPCA canine models by Santa Cruz photographer Portia Shao of Positive Vista studio.