“I mean it, Maxie! If you keep barking, you’re not going to a restaurant anymore!” I actually heard this threat issued at an outdoor café on Second Avenue a few weeks ago, and, as might be expected, the yapping Maxie—a nasty little horror show—was entirely unfazed. He (she? it?) howled merrily away, no doubt planning how to sucker his (her? its?) owner into purchasing a whole new Maxie-worthy wardrobe for fall.
I knew something was up in pet country, some new arrogance informing the behavior of Maxie and her ilk, when a press release for Sexy Beast, a dog fragrance that bills itself as a “distinct and highly-addictive eau de parfum [that] will keep your dog smelling fresh and clean long after the trip to the groomer,” crossed my desk. This was rapidly followed by the information that August 17 marked the beginning of Pet Fashion Week.
So fascinated am I by any fashion week, no matter how ludicrous or far-fetched, that I rush over to the W hotel, where the Luxury Pet Pavilion, “the first traveling trade show for luxury pet products,” is being held. I immediately say the wrong thing to the two very nice women behind the registration desk: “Are there a lot of animals here? Because I hate pets.” They are horror-struck, and rightly so. I mean, would I go to the Gaultier couture show in Paris and say, “Are there clothes here? Because I hate fashion.”
I quickly discover that Pet Fashion Week has plenty in common with human Fashion Week—mainly, all the really cute stuff is for scrawny, undernourished-looking animals. “Baby is my inspiration,” says Marilyn Hikida, stroking a three-pound teacup Maltese. Baby and her owner both boast serious résumés—Baby has been on The Tonight Show and Entertainment Tonight; Hikida used to work at BCBG and Bloomingdale’s. Now she devotes her energies to Barking Baby, which specializes in hats and matching coats—a leopard-print Beatles cap, say, with a matching spotted cloak, or—in what is perhaps an unwitting example of racial profiling—a Chihuahua-size poncho and sombrero.
When Hikida offers me a taste of her spinach-and-Parmesan-cheese- flavored organic dog treats, made in what she assures me is a “human-grade bakery,” I demur. (I don’t know, maybe it’s the bone shape.) On the other hand, General, an equally anorexic pup at the next table, is chomping at the bit for a bite. General is wearing skinny jeans and a black cable-knit sweater over a white polo shirt, which makes him better-dressed than 90 percent of the vendors.
It soon becomes apparent that Baby and General are the canine equivalents of Ukrainian supermodels. I immediately fall into my historic role as champion of the underdog (Ouch! Sorry!) and decide to speak up for all those rotund Rovers who appear to have been overlooked by the pet fashion community. Where are sombreros for their fat heads? Whither the XXXL doggie dungarees? Alas, in common with their voluptuous human counterparts, these fat Fidos have to settle for accessories, like a collar studded with 800 hand-sewn Swarovski crystals offered by a company called Wiggles, Wags, & Whiskers for $400.
There’s so much to see—the dog crate disguised as a Scalamandre-trimmed canopy bed; the hand-knitted sweaters decorated with crabs (the dealer is from Maryland); the life-celebration kit, which contains an aromatherapy candle that burns 24 hours straight (lets face it, this is a yartseit candle for a dog); the skull-and-crossbones doggie barrettes.
You might think that you’d be ready to throw up by this point, and maybe you would have a point—but then I have a sudden epiphany. At the Romy and Jacob display, the owner tells me that her merchandise is “very high-end, the same quality as children’s clothes,” and I suddenly think, “OK, sure, but does a human baby need a cashmere pullover? Do rugrats require recycled fur parkas? If you’re willing to buy this stuff for an infant, then why not a dog?”
photo: Mary Bloom; bottom: Sexy Beast
This new magnanimous feeling is reinforced when I see a dog carrier made of the bunched-up leather so popular for handbags this season. After all, if I can drag around town toting the ridiculous plastic-and-leather Fendi I am carrying this very day, dogless though it may be, why can’t a pooch perch in a puckered Prada?
Still, I have a hard time suppressing a brief internal snicker when I see a plate of revolting-looking mush set out on the Halo, Purely for Pets table. Andi Brown, Halo’s founder, who has a platinum pixie haircut, sobers me right up, recounting a tale I suspect she has told many times before: Years ago, her cat Spot was dying of some unspecified ailment. When it was suggested that Spot stop eating junk food, why,—voilà—she perked right up. Thus was Halo, “the first holistic pet-product company on the planet,” born.
Brown is the author of The Whole Pet Diet, which she is anxious to give me a copy of, asking whom she should dedicate it to. I search my mind for a dog that, if not exactly a friend of mine, is at least an acquaintance. I settle on Molly, a 14-year-old border- collie mix whose chief virtue is that she has the good sense to leave me mostly alone when I visit her owner, K. Actually, K, who has put up with a lot from me over the years, set me straight when I once teased her about a giant vet bill she was footing for Molly. “You spend $500 getting an antique doll restuffed, and you don’t think I should help Molly? At least Molly knows who I am,” she said, and I shut up. Permanently.
If there is an informal mistress of ceremonies at the Luxury Pet Pavilion, it is self-described New York pet socialite and national luxury pet products expert Charlotte Reed, whose height is made even more impressive by her snakeskin sandals, and who is sporting dangling rhinestone dog-bone earrings. “This market has just exploded,” Reed tells me, because “people really love their pets—just like children! They want to dress like them, take them to baseball games, to yappy hours.” (Yappy hours?)
Reed points me toward a display of exquisite armchairs and settees that are lavishly tufted and look like they come from a miniature version of the Shabby Chic store in Soho. “Look how beautiful that furniture is. It’s not like the old blanket, the dog bed you kicked under the couch when company was coming. Look at all the tassels, the bindings!”
Stupid for dogs, I think. But perfect for a doll.