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Pampering your pets in style

'We changed the culture of pet boutiques in Brazil,' says Jose Estrela, co-owner (pictured with Lola) of the upscale boutique Espeso in the South End. 'We broke the mold.' "We changed the culture of pet boutiques in Brazil," says Jose Estrela, co-owner (pictured with Lola) of the upscale boutique Espeso in the South End. "We broke the mold." (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christine M. Liu
Globe Correspondent / July 10, 2008

Espeso may be a brand-new high-end accessories mecca for dogs and cats with style, but the partners behind it aren't latecomers to the pet-pampering scene. They helped create it.

Fourteen years ago, long before the proliferation of organic dog treats and puppy perfume, Jose Estrela opened The Pet From Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro with longtime friend and veterinarian Luiz Pereira. At a time when most pet supply shops were strictly utilitarian, they fashioned something a bit more refined.

"We changed the culture of pet boutiques in Brazil," says Estrela. "We broke the mold."

Today, with three stories of pet pampering, The Pet From Ipanema has become one of the most sophisticated stores of its kind in the world. A full-service destination for retail therapy (plus a grooming spa and rotating selection of available puppies for sale), it has since spawned two more locations in Brazil (Curitiba and Belo Horizonte) and, now, in the US with Espeso. The name refers to the three partners: Jose Estrela, Luiz Pereira, Edgar Sommer.

Although the Boston location won't be shilling labradoodles just yet, it does offer a bounty of goodies.

"We want to emphasize quality and uniqueness," Estrela says of the South End boutique, just a bone's throw from Joe Wex Dog Recreation Space at Peters Park. "For example, these beds, you're not going to find them anywhere."

Said pillows, designed by Bowsers, are custom-made and come in elegant prints ("chocolate bones" is a personal favorite) that wouldn't look out of place in a Ralph Lauren showroom. "The bed will last a while," Estrela declares. "You'll have a hard time destroying this." "Unless your dog is a little devil," says manager Satiero Walker, laughing.

A sleek sink area is dedicated to "muttrosexual" necessities like calming aromatherapy spritzer (a detangling, leave-in conditioner) and bowwow butter balm (a soothing treatment for dry cracked noses and paws).

"They smell wonderful," Walker says. "You'll want them for yourself." There are also plenty of silly toys that make crumpled-paper-bag sounds, and handsome webbed collars mingling with exquisite Swarovski crystal-studded models. All-natural treats (available in wheat- and corn-free) are available for sniffing discernment.

Estrela aims for the boutique to be a hub of local activity ("It's best to work with the neighborhood; we want some sort of relationship," he says), and also get involved in pet-friendly causes, such as collaborating with the MSPCA on spay/neuter education. Taking and displaying photos featuring furry (and not-so furry) customers is a cheerful, ongoing agenda.

Estrela, whose poodle Nevada stayed loyally by his side when he was weakened by chemotherapy treatments in 1999, understands the emotional motivation to purchase products for a pet.

"As a pet owner, I always want to please my pet," he says. "You want to reward the feeling you get from the animal."

Although your tail-wagging beloved probably won't be aware of how much effort you put into choosing "salsa stripe" over "tattersal" fabric for her microvelvet pillow, it's the thought that counts.

"It's more than just a bone or a collar," Estrela says. "The master really cares."

Espeso, 1180 Washington St., Suite 101, South End. 617-670-1200, espeso-inc.com

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