Dressing New Orleans top dogs
Twenty years ago, Elayne Angel had the wild and crazy thought of opening a specialty shop for small dogs. She and her friend, Justine Roig, owned dog brothers Angelo and Tweaky, who as most Chihuahuas do, often got chilled in cool weather. As a result, Angel and Roig were always looking for sweaters and jackets that were also glamorous enough for their treasured pets.
“Also, Elayne used to make outfits for our dogs and people always asked her where she got that jacket or that dress,” says Roig.
So, with a series of serendipitous events, Chi-wa-wa Ga-Ga came together. This small 350-square-foot store in the French Quarter is chock-full of fashion: tea dresses, leather biker jackets, pork-pie hats and voluminous capes.
Emma Hobley from Houston visits the store every time she and her husband come to town. Today, she’s buying Matilda, her miniature poodle, two toys, a hot pink gown and a Dia de Los Muertos dress with matching bandana.
“There is so much selection here and everyone is so nice,” Hobley says.
On the shop’s website, the owners joke, “The atmosphere is festive and fun (we’re in New Orleans after all!) and animals are welcome if their owners are well behaved.”
New Orleans society columnist Margarita Bergen is a regular customer and says her dogs have more outfits than some people do.
“I enjoy so much going shopping at Chi-wa-wa Ga-Ga since it provides me with great choices to outfit my beloved small Chihuahuas,” says Bergen. “I have been going there for more than a decade. Justine is so sweet and knows what I like, so she always finds the right outfit for Lolita, and before that, Chiquita. My favorite outfit is when Chiquita was the Duchess of the Mystic Krewe of Barkus and that year the theme was honoring the Saints. The dress has the three colors of Mardi Gras, but it was all lined with the Fleur de Lis of the Saints.”
The store continues to take custom orders, and while the main focus is on dogs, they do carry items for cats, ferrets, rabbits and other small pets, as well as a variety of dog collectibles including key chains, rubber stamps, figurines, signs, stickers and note pads for different breeds. Although the store primarily caters to small dogs, Chi-wa-wa Ga-Ga carries outfits up to size 6XL — big enough to adorn a large Labrador.
Roig says the store’s most popular items are anything with a fleur de lis on it. If the Saints are winning, she also sells lots of Saints items. Other best-selling items include bandanas, sunglasses and Carnival masks.
“I know my price points,” she says. “Probably the most expensive thing I ever sold was some boots for $80. I know what I can and cannot sell. I want it up on the shelf and out.”
The store serves a mixture of locals and tourists, all of whom enjoy dressing their dear, darling doggies in delightful outfits.
“I know it’s a bit ridiculous; I didn’t think we’d last 20 months and here we are 20 years later. We love it when our customers scream, ‘That is SOOOOOOO CUTE!’”
511 Dumaine St.
Photos include: Duchess Chiquita and owner Justine Roig