By Paul Semper
It finally happened: I’d gotten the call I’d dreamed of for years—I was going to Fashion Week in New York! The schmoozing, the clothes, and most important, the shoes—I could hardly wait. There was just one small catch: The events I would be covering would be wall to wall with models wearing fur, and not much else. I was about to experience Pet Fashion Week.
The flight to New York was smooth, although I spent my 90 minutes in the air sharing my limited legroom with a Chinese Crested (snuggled in his Sherpa bag) who was very, very interested in my sandal-shod feet. It reminded me of the Samuel L. Jackson thriller Snakes on a Plane and I started thinking that if the pups on this plane got loose the result would involve indiscriminate licking and, I imagine, much less screaming.
A smooth landing and a long wait in the baggage-claim area later, I was in the back of a yellow cab and on my way to the W Tuscany on Manhattan’s East Side. The W Hotel chain, a Pet Fashion Week sponsor, is famous for its pet-friendly accommodations; every location has a specific “dog concierge” who can point you in the direction of all things furry.
Friday night, on the fifth floor of the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, I found myself at the opening-night kick-off party, sponsored by Legally Blonde: The Musical. The guest list was a who’s who of the luxury pet industry (thankfully, they all wore nametags). The VIP area, hosted by chic shampoo retailer Isle of Dogs, featured a rather robust pink lemonade (a tribute to the musical’s heroine, Elle Woods, I suspected) with enough kick to make you contemplate moving across country and enrolling in law school to win back your lost love. All proceeds for the $50 event went to benefit the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, whose mission is to ensure that no pet in good health is euthanized in the city of New York, simply because he or she does not have a home.
Saturday morning dawned cool and clear and I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I made my way out onto 39th Street and hailed a cab. Minutes later I was moving through the wide aisles of the pavilion’s first floor. I was keeping my keen eyes peeled for fabulous new products and it didn’t take me long to find them. Gino the Dog, a Turkish company that offers students of the California College of Arts a chance to design items for the pet industry, had some of the most well-designed products I have ever seen. The Brandon Warren-designed Wild Bowls (especially in the silver finish) took my breath away. They truly look like they belong in a Soho gallery and not on a person’s floor. The Soho reference is especially apt when you consider the nearly $300 price tag.
Much more my speed were the whimsical designs of the Eye Candy collection by Fairytail Couture. With toys, clothing, and bags sporting the logos of Tootsie Rolls, Charms, Dots, and many of my favorite childhood treats, my mouth was watering even before I noticed bowls full of the aforementioned candies all over the booth. Of particular interest was a small fuzzy squeaky toy featuring the Charms owl deciphering the eternal question, “How many licks…?”
Once I’d finished scouring the main floor I realized I hadn’t seen any of the companies featured in the Luxury Pet Pavilion (LPP). There had been rumors flying prior to the show of a rift between the LPP and Mario Difante, the executive director of Pet Fashion Week. The rumors weren’t hard to believe, as there were no signs identifying where the LPP was or how to get there.
The difficulty in locating the pavilion was forgotten once I finally found it. A piano player in the corner filled the space with a memorable hit by a certain New York-state-of-mind composer while servers passed hors d’oeuvres on silver platters. Interviewing the exhibitors was pet fashion guru Charlotte Reed, whose recent opus, Miss Fido Manners, landed her in hot water with the real Miss Manners, and in the New York Post’s infamous “Page Six” column. The LPP’s designated charity, Angel on a Leash, had a booth right in the center of the action and its representatives were nosing, sniffing, and playing throughout the space. In its third year, this charity wing of the Westminster Kennel Club’s therapy-dog program has become an integral part the occupational/physical therapy departments of hospitals throughout New York, and it is looking to eventually expand the program to major cities nationwide.
But the biggest thrill of the weekend was the Sunday afternoon runway show on the fifth floor. When the show began, I was struck immediately by how comfortable the models were with their canine counterparts. Unfortunately, many of the dozen or so featured companies showing on the runway offered designs that were more of the same. Some, however, caused quite a stir, including a multicolored coat by Manfred of Sweden that elicited gasps from the spectators seated in my area. One Lucky Dog couture showed a plaid dress that was cute and Country Life New Zealand vaunted a khaki military jacket made from authentic surplus WWII material that had the audience standing at attention.
There were, however, some lapses in taste (and judgment) during the show. As one model strutted down the runway with a dog in her arms sporting a black bob, the person sitting next to me was prompted to mutter, “They’re dogs, not dolls.” Another such instance was the final segment of the runway show, the Creative Styling Showcase, sponsored by Isle of Dogs. While interesting, the dogs’ outfits sported feathers, large hats, and many were dyed various colors. It’s hard to imagine that this would be a pleasant experience for the dogs themselves. It reminded me of Pet Fashion Week itself: interesting to look at, but not necessarily bettering lives.