Thirteen years ago, Ada Nieves just wanted to make her dog, Vanilla, look pretty. Little did she know that the yellow polka-dot bikini she was sewing for her pup would end up launching a pet fashion empire.
“Everybody went crazy,” the designer, 54, says, remembering strangers’ reactions when they saw Vanilla in her sassy two-piece at an East Village party. “I got a lot of my first clients that day.”
Nieves is now the most in-demand pet couturier in the city. She sews animal garments for dozens of events a year, including the Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade, the Algonquin Hotel Cat Fashion Show and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Her fantastical creations have appeared on the TV shows “Girls” and “30 Rock.” And she is the first credited animal-fashion designer, with a certificate from the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“I’ve dressed dogs, cats, hamsters, pigs, a bearded dragon,” says the sweet-natured Nieves, sipping a soda in the Alphabet City apartment she shares with her six Chihuahuas (Vanilla, Tabasco, Strawberry Muffin, Mojito, Manhattan and Amaretto), her cat (Martini), and husband, Edgar, who is retired from the Army.
Vanilla, dressed in a Wonder Woman harness, licks Nieves’ hand as Martini skulks about the table, where a miniature clothing rack bursting with canine couture sits. A half-finished Day of the Dead-style dog painting, by Nieves, rests against the wall. A nook by the window holds more animal outfits, on adorable doll-size hangers and tiny dress forms.
“This past Christmas,” she adds, “I even got to dress a camel!”
A big part of Nieves’ business, however, is her bespoke atelier. These clients, hailing from everywhere from East New York to Sydney, often pony up hundreds of dollars for Nieves to construct unique, made-to-measure outfits for their pets — from embroidered tuxes to exuberantly hand-painted frocks. She once designed a doggie dress with computerized LED lights that cost $25,000. And she’s created several feathered tutus for a Brooklyn-based chicken named Lady Gaga.
“Ada is an artist,” says Grace Forster, a stylish retiree in her 60s who frequently commissions Nieves to dress her Yorkies, Portia and Rosie, for fashion events and galas. (She and Nieves are already planning the dogs’ outfits for the next Pet…