When the pandemic hit New York City, I cut spending on myself. I cooked most of my meals, only splurging for delivery when I could afford to tip generously. I wore the same old t-shirts and sweatpants every day. For the first time in a while, I didn’t care that my lack of a pedicure was peaking through sandals. If you could notice, you were walking too close to me. I worked out at home on a yoga mat. I didn’t travel anywhere.
I didn’t cut spending on Artemis. In fact, I increased my spending on her, vowing to shop from small businesses as often as possible. I bought more toys to keep her occupied at home. I bought treats from local farms. Suddenly, spending money on Artemis felt like a mission. We were keeping small pet care brands in business. It was our moral imperative to shop!
But I did splurge on one thing for myself this pandemic. After getting targeted by an Instagram advertisement, I bought this Staud Sweatshirt in Cream, customized with an embroidered portrait of Artemis. Though it took almost two months to arrive, it was well worth the wait. I worried that, because Artemis is a mutt and not a standard breed, that her likeness would not be captured properly. But Malibu-based embroidery artist C.Bonz captured her Yoda ears, mischievous eyes, and thousand-watt smile perfectly.
The $195 sweatshirt (with 10 percent going to Muddy Paws Rescue) was perfect for Zoom calls at home: The pet portrait sits high above your chest, so that everyone looking at you from their computer screen knows that you’re a dog (or cat, or horse, or chicken) parent. “I was always a dress girl, but I just can’t be bothered to make an effort to get all dressed up just to sit on my bed all day working in my bedroom,” Michele Levbarg-Klein Rayden, a buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH and dog mom to Kona the Poodle, told A&A. “I’ve just been wearing it with leggings, but I always make sure the Zoom is positioned so people can see Kona!” Kona lives between Palm Beach and Manhattan, and can often be seen being toted around in her mom’s Dior bag.
It also looks and feels cozy—an earnest display of affection for your pet. Without any stability left in this world, I held onto my steadfast identity as a dog mom.
“I consider it more of a keepsake than a collectible—I treasure it, but it gets worn!”
It wasn’t just me. In late April 2020, WWD reported that online sales for luxury dog products had risen during quarantine, providing “cheery relief” to dog parents. On Instagram, I saw stylish dog moms celebrate the arrival of their Staud sweatshirts. “Leche’s little face was one of the only things that could stave off those all-consuming feelings of dread, which is why I was more than happy to spend a couple hundred dollars to embroider it on a sweatshirt for posterity,” Nylon editorial director Alyssa Vingan Klein and dog mom to Leche the Havanese, told A&A. “[We] spent a significant amount of time together before quarantine started, of course, but I never expected that we’d have to spend literally every second of every day for weeks on end in the same room. She was my primary source of comfort in the early days of self-isolation when things in New York were terrifying, and I would have been so much worse off emotionally without her!”
Alyssa credits the pandemic to changing the way she consumes fashion. “My desire to shop is a fraction of what it once was, and I expect it to stay that way,” she explained. “I’ve only been interested in purchasing special collectors’ items, or pieces that will last in my wardrobe for a very long time—also, that I will actually wear, and are not only for special occasions or that will look good on Instagram.” The Leche sweatshirt, she added, will be in her wardrobe forever.
Former Shopbop editorial director and Lucky editor (and dog mom to Patrick) Jenna Gottlieb wasn’t counting down the days to receiving her sweatshirt because she received it as a gift. “The sweatshirt was a birthday gift from a group of close friends who kindly tolerate my obsession with my dog,” she told A&A. “I consider it more of a keepsake than a collectible—I treasure it, but it gets worn! It’s not sitting on a shelf wrapped in tissue paper.” Like me, she worries that the cream sweatshirt would get stained with coffee eventually. It’s the one big dilemma with the sweatshirt: It’s so comfortable and sweet that you want to wear it, but you can’t treat it like another jersey sweatshirt you can throw into the wash.
One solution, perhaps, is purchasing more Staud pet portrait products, so you don’t have to wear your sweatshirt to shreds. You could get the Bissett bucket bag painted with a portrait of your dog, or the Clear Shirley Bag painted with a portrait of your cat. You could get the sweatshirt in grey, which seems easier to wash and is probably the one I should have ordered. Even if you’re not going anywhere, you can set these custom handbags in your home like art pieces. It’s one way to build up your pet portrait collection without hanging frames on the wall.
Creatives who love their dogs always find a way to incorporate dogs into their work. It’s why YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen’s Fresh collaboration features an illustration of Tayto, her Pomeranian rescue. It’s why Ariana Grande insisted that her dog, Toulouse, appear on the cover of Vogue with her. It’s why Frida Kahlo took some of her famous self-portraits with her beloved Xolos. Where there’s a dog, there’s a way—which is why Staud co-founders, Sarah Staudinger and George Augusto, consider dogs to be part of the DNA of the Los Angeles-based fashion label.
“Our office is insanely dog friendly,” Sarah told A&A. “We all bring our dogs to the office, and for Halloween, we did a dog costume contest.”When the pandemic approached Los Angeles, they had long been thinking about doing a pet portrait collection with their collaborator. “The pandemic just accelerated the whole conversation because our animals bring us so much joy, especially like in this time of uncertainty and anxiety,” Sarah said. “I found myself extra attached and having insane cuddle sessions with my dogs.”
Sarah has two dogs, Flea the Yorkie and Frank the Shorkie Poo, and George has one dog, Carmela Soprano the Poodle mix. Flea was a gift to Sarah from her father, back when she was a freshman at the New School and uninterested in caretaking. He told her: “You’re going to thank me later and you need to be responsible for something.” Eight years later, after becoming the fashion director of Reformation, Sarah and George launched Staud—with Flea by their side. Frank and Carmela would follow. Staud was created as a reaction to fast fashion, using dead-stock fabrics and creating made-to-order pieces at more accessible price points. Drawing from Sarah’s background in sustainability at Reformation, and George’s artistic direction to avoid making the brand seem too tech-based, Staud quickly became a staple for celebrities, influencers, fashion editors, and anyone who just craved a well-made dress for a hot summer’s day.
The Resort ’20 collection was the first time they made dogs officially part of the collection. The collection featured a toile print of palm trees and dogs, modeled after Sarah’s own. “It’s hidden in the print,” she said. “But it’s always part of our brand.”
George and Sarah are no strangers to wearing their pets on their sleeves. They ordered socks with their dogs’ faces. They got Christmas ornaments made to look like their dogs. Sarah wears a locket with Flea’s portrait, gifted by her mother. And of course, these days, Sarah’s been wearing her own collection. When the pandemic began, she only wore sweatpants, but she switched over to house dresses or Staud’s version of boxers with the sweatshirt layered on top.
Due to the success of the pet portrait collection—Kendall Jenner, Selena Gomez, Olivia Munn, and Diane Keaton are fans—Sarah and George plan to continue incorporating animals into their future collections. “We’re very dog-centric,” George said. “But I want to add that we’re open to other animals.” Several horse girls have made orders, too.
Photos courtesy of Staud, Jenna Gottlieb, Michele Levbarg-Klein Rayden
Header photography by Tayler Smith