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Ilene Hochberg Proves Her Bite Is Worse Than Her Bark in Her Spoof of Canine Couture

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Ilene Hochberg had been warned: Cat books sell; dog books don’t. But that didn’t stop her. She wanted to prove everyone wrong and doggone it, she did. Her recently issued fashion parody, Dogue (Main Street Press, $8.95) is so successful that most of the publishing world has been left with its tail between its legs.

Dogue, of course, is a spoof of Vogue, the archetype of fashion magazines. Hochberg, 31, has filled its pages with four-legged models draped in canine couture, typifying her fashion dogma. Hotels for hounds, dream doghouses and a workout page featuring Jane Fido are but a few of the topical articles. There’s also a “Dogs Are Barking About” column and a Q & A beauty page where a Yorkshire terrier with dry, fly-away hair asks how she can “achieve a fresher, more pulled-together look.” Even the ads stay in theme, hawking Kennel No. 5 perfume, Rufflon nail enamel and Barkglama minks.

Despite being turned down by most major publishers, Dogue sold out its huge first printing of 125,000 by publication date. Now in its third printing, Dogue is a Literary Guild selection and options have been placed on it in France, the Netherlands and Japan.

Dogue is a direct descendant of another Hochberg publication, 1983’s Dogwear Daily, a playful imitation of Women’s Wear Daily. At the time, Hochberg was designing a line of clothes for dogs and Dogwear was meant to create an awareness of her business. After getting thousands of responses, Hochberg realized she’d been barking up the wrong tree. “While people liked the clothes,” she says, “they loved the newspaper.” So she put her designing business on hold and started writing a book.

For two years Hochberg researched the pet market. To capture the slick, high-fashion appeal of beauty magazines, Ilene hired fashion photographers. She designed all the clothes used in the fashion layouts but freely admits she copied the styles of real designers, who are given credit, of sorts. Thus, one of the dogs models a denim jacket by Ruff Lauren, while a wide-eyed spaniel shows off a gold embroidered cape by Yves Saint Bernard. Bill Blass (also known as Bow Blass) was so enchanted with Dogue that he ordered 350 copies to give away at a charity affair.

Hochberg, nee Rosenthal, grew up in Yonkers, N.Y. She has not always been putting on the dog but has always been involved in clothes and fashion. The eldest daughter of a dentist and a housewife, Hochberg would often be dragged to a friend or relative’s house by her mother to advise them on what clothes went well together. The first thing Hochberg would ask for on her return from summer camp was a copy of Vogue. She graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in design and environmental analysis in 1976. Hired by the Abraham and Straus department store, she eventually became a fashion coordinator.

She founded Dogwear, her canine fashion line, in 1982. Ilene and her husband, Irwin, who owns a company that builds store interiors, have an apartment in Manhattan, and they weekend in Bucks County, Pa.

Though Hochberg says her Dogue days are not entirely behind her, her next project may provoke a woof of dismay among her dogged devotees. The proposed subject: cat couture.