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Swarovski: For bride and bridle

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It was sort of like fashion week. But instead of edgy couture and leggy women, the runway saw models of the four-legged kind. And they all wore fur. No cause for PETA to protest since they were all toy poodles. But their blingy accessories were for real - sparkly bowties for cats, crystal-studded collars for dogs and glittering bridles, saddles and brow-bands. As Taj Alam, managing director of Kings International, which is a Kanpur-based tannery and saddler, put it, "These are party clothes for animals. "

Kanpur, which has been making saddlery since the time the British Army trained locals in the art, has now moved into Swarovski-embellished accessories, mostly for horses. "There is a lot of demand from the West, " says Alam. Kanpur, well known for leather goods, has about 150 variously-sized saddleries, most of which export horse accessories to Western Europe, the US and Canada. Alam adds that though the export market for specialised pet accessories has been growing, the economic downturn has made the business intensely competitive. "Whether you use beads or steel or chains or crystals, you have to ensure that the products can be differentiated. Crystals are best because they come in various sizes, shapes, colours and cuts, " says Alam.

He adds that though India is the largest exporter in terms of volumes, it is not so for value. A saddle in India, thanks to lower labour and leather costs, is made at one-tenth of what it would cost in the US or UK.

R K Jhunjhunwala, managing director of Moti International Pvt Ltd, says the combination of crystals and leather happened because customers demanded it. Gautam Narang, owner of Amir Leather, says that most of the crystal-leather market is made up of female riders between the ages of 12 and 18. "I recently met with a group of customers in Germany. They were all between 8 and 16 years of age and wanted to match their dresses to the kind of bridles and brow-bands their horses wear. And like all other young girls, they gravitated towards crystal, " adds Narang. Others say that the kind of motif/design also depends on the kind of horse. Owners of Western horses, for instance, which are sturdier and bigger, tend to buy products with bigger crystals, while those of Arab horses, considered to be more feminine and graceful, prefer the sprays of smaller crystals.

Exporters attribute the sizable market in the West to the high number of ranches, farms and riding schools. Most of these accessories are used for dressage and show competitions. Kitting out a horse in these novel accessories can cost anything from Rs 55, 000 to Rs 2, 75, 000. Apart from the cost of the crystals, the workers also have to be specifically trained for embellishing leather.

The saddleries are strictly divided into two categories - those who manufacture for foreign customers and those who supply to the domestic market. Narang says that though there is a lot of horse ownership in India, most either do not want to indulge in these accessories or the orders are too small. "You won't obviously see these high-end products on the ponies that walk up and down the mall in Shimla or Manali, " he says pointedly.

However, the market in India for anything with crystals - whether for humans or pets - is on the rise. Konia Khanna, marketing head (India) for Swarovski, says that even everyday items such as headphones or tweezers with crystals sell. The company recently launched crystal wallpaper in India.

The enthusiasm for blingy accessories for dogs too has been going up in India. Shreya Goenka, business development head at Heads up for Tails, an upscale pet shop in Delhi, says expense is no longer a concern when it comes to pets. "Most people buy it as party wear for their pets. Pet owners buy these for Diwali parties, marriages in the house etc. The demand has certainly escalated. For instance, we run out of the diamante name collars all the time, " she says.

But just like all horses are not made for the same saddle, not all dogs would like to be seen in the same collar either. Alam explains, "For instance, the wife might own a Pomeranian with a highpitched bark and a cranky temperament, who would prefer a peach collar with mauve crystals but say the husband, who has a German Shepherd, might like a spiked one. For the life of me, I cannot imagine an Alsatian in a crystal collar. "

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