Alpen Schatz

At her Main Street boutique Alpen Schatz, Mary Dawn DeBriae holds a new Swiss leather-and-metal dog collar and compares it with its 200-year-old predecessor. Through an agreement with luxury department store chain Nordstrom, DeBriae is selling the contemporary version of the regal-styled collars throughout North America. (Photo by Andre Salvail/Telluride Daily Planet)

 

Handcrafted leather dog collars bearing brass or silver symbols of royalty: Are these for the canine who wants for nothing?

There can be many motives behind what most people would view as an extravagant purchase. What’s certain is that a Telluride retailer, through a vital connection with a Swiss manufacturer, has been complementing her local sales this year by offering such handcrafted leather and metal collars across North America, thanks to a recent agreement with the luxury department store Nordstrom.

Mary Dawn DeBriae, owner of the Main Street shop Alpen Shatz Boutique — purveyor of all things alpine-related, from Old World beer steins to traditional Bavarian felt hunters’ hats to cowbells used in ski competitions — said Nordstrom initially came to her with the proposal to sell the regal collars at pop-up kiosks in eight stores in the West, Midwest and Canada, as well as online.

“They came to me,” DeBriae said. “I got an email — and I thought it was spam because I get a lot of spam mail — and Nordstrom said they found the collars online and they were really interested in the Alpen Schatz Swiss Dog Collars for a special promotion on ‘The Year of the Dog’ in the Chinese horoscope.”

DeBriae spoke at length about the unique character of the collars. Produced in Switzerland, they are made of “organic cow leather” and adorned with the same styles of metal symbols associated with European royalty some 200-250 years ago. 

There was a practical reason for affixing the medallions to the leather collar, she explained. A predator attempting to bite the dog at the neck would hit metal instead of flesh, giving the canine a chance to survive.

The manufacturer, a seventh-generation family operation, is located in a Swiss village called Appenzell, comparable in size to Telluride. 

DeBriae discovered the collars at a pet store in Switzerland around 18 years ago.

“I bought a collar and moved to America with my dog, and everyone in California wanted my collar,” she said. “I called the Swiss embassy, and said, ‘Who makes these? This is a product I would like to bring to the world.’”

She flew back to Europe to track down the craftsmen. DeBriae speaks German fluently, which she said enabled the German-speaking Swiss citizens to warm up to her. 

“Appenzell is very traditional and old-fashioned. It’s one of most Old World places left in Europe. They still vote by hand. Women were just allowed to vote a few years ago,” she said.

Prior to the “Pop-In Nordstrom” marketing campaign, which launched in mid-February and featured the Alpen Schatz collars, DeBriae was selling the collars through Amazon.com. Sales through the online retail giant continue.

Asked why the major-league retail outlets are using a “middle-woman” (Alpen Schatz) instead of purchasing directly from the source in Switzerland, DeBriae reiterated the importance of forging the relationships in Europe nearly two decades ago.

“The craftsmen who make these … they are artists. This is an art. They have no interest in dealing with the outside world, so I’ve become their (seller),” she said.

Even Queen Elizabeth II’s beloved Corgis wear the Swiss-style regal dog collars, said DeBriae, who first opened a shop on the eastern end of Telluride’s Main Street in 2004. 

Today, Alpen Schatz is below street level in the heart of downtown at 100 W. Colorado Ave. For more information, visit alpenschatz.com.