The models in Bryant Park have received considerable primping, fluffing, and coddling for the last six days during New York Fashion Week, but last night, they had nothing on the bitches in Madison Square Garden.
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"They're divas," said handler Nick Viggiano, a clean-cut young fashionista, gesturing toward three yipping terriers who were peering through the bars of their cages. The dogs were competing at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, which concluded Tuesday evening with the crowning of Sadie, a Scottish terrier, as Best in Show. Dylan, the feistiest one, was busy shredding the paper lining of her cage in a Naomi Campbell-style tantrum while she awaited her session with a stylist.
• The Top 20 Dog Names of the Future Viggiano, an apprentice handler for the American Kennel Club, wore a slim-cut suit and a tidy blue apron, and wielded a formidable doggie hairdryer. He could only speak for a minute, he said. He was "incredibly stressed out."
"Just sculpting Dylan is a long, involved process with many steps," he said. "It has to blend. It has to balance. It's almost like creating a work of art." All the dogs are washed and dried before competing in the show. Many receive laborious color treatments to enhance the sheen of their coats. Dylan, who doesn't exactly love to sit still, also gets eyeliner and hairspray. "My sister's a model," Viggiano said, dabbing sweat from his brow, "and she says the process is very similar."
Dylan, the feistiest one, was busy shredding the paper lining of her cage in a Naomi Campbell-style tantrum while she awaited her session with a stylist.
More than 2,500 dogs from 173 breeds competed at this year's 134th annual Westminster show. Untold thousands of models appear in the more than 300 shows and presentations that occur over the eight full days of New York Fashion Week, versions of which have occurred in the city since 1943. The two groups have very little in common, apart from their elaborate grooming rituals—and a mutual appreciation of fur.
Models at the Marc Jacobs show on Monday night began going into hair and makeup five hours before the 8 p.m. start time, according to company president Robert Duffy. By contrast, the purebreds competing at Westminster undergo elaborate styling routines that often begin weeks before they step into the ring.
Jennifer Martin and her two-year-old Weimaraner, Ch Simpatico Au Courant A Chaud (a.k.a. "Sizzle") run five miles a day, and the pup's rippling muscles stand out beneath his short-haired sheen. Martin, an Oklahoma native who now lives in Maryland, washes Sizzle with special organic shampoo and conditioner. Sizzle travels in a case covered with a leopard-print blanket, with her products stored in a matching leopard-print tote bag. On show day, Martin chooses her own outfit carefully as well.
"I'm known in my ring for kind of being a slave to fashion," she said. "I wear pants in a solid color that will enhance the dog." That morning she wore an Elie Tahari suit with a ruffled blouse, showing Sizzle at the very same time Tahari was presenting his Fall 2010 collection in Bryant Park. "We were in it but we didn't win it," said Martin, who wore magenta tint on her lips and her hair in a short blond bob. "But it's OK. At least if we're going to lose, we're going to look good doing it."
A few stalls away, Margaret Warfield and her 225-pound mastiff, Ch Beowolf Get A Load of Me (a.k.a. "Wilbur") were striving for the same Zen-like nonchalance. Warfield calls her hulking guard dog "ready-to-wear" because he's ready for showtime after a bath and a dab of Vitamin E on his fist-size nose. Then again, just bathing the dog takes more than two hours, since his massive coat must be painstakingly hand-dried. Warfield wore a red satin jacket with a mandarin collar and a generous coating of sequins for the big show, plus a heavy onyx necklace to ward off competitors' negative vibes.
Surrounding the "benching area" where dogs and their owners nervously pace until it's time to perform, there are stalls hocking the finest in high-end dog beauty and fashion products. Two blondes with pearly white teeth patiently talked up Les Pooches luxury grooming products, which range from $12 organic dog biscuits to a $3,000 crystal bottle of blue-colored dog perfume. The B*Unique boutique allowed pet lovers to order, at considerable expense, a sturdy jean shirt custom-bedazzled with Swarovski crystals in the image of their own dog.
Seating at the Garden was considerably less competitive than in Bryant Park, but just because it was dogs prancing around, that didn't make the atmosphere any less catty. One couple in an executive box spent the entire afternoon guffawing, in heavy Westchester accents, about the outfit choices of the dog handlers jogging around the stage. "Look at that fatty in the red sweater," said the wife. Her husband nodded in agreement. "These women should all be wearing pants."
Of course, many were, lending the dog show a heartier aesthetic than the flouncy, feminine tone on the runways. Westminster is the Ellen DeGeneres to Fashion Week's Portia de Rossi, the Melissa Ethridge to its Elton John.
That's not to say there's any less an appreciation of perfect anatomy and impeccable tailoring on the Astroturf than in the Tents. And no one knows that better than Lourdes Cofino and her two-year-old Newfoundland Ch Halcyon Queen Isabella, a "multiple Best-In-Show bitch." Cofino, in 4-inch Michael Kors stiletto pumps, described the $400 blow-drier she used to gently coif Queen Halcyon, in a process that takes upwards of two hours before a show. It could be exhausting, but it was worth it.
"It's a show, so you just have to look beautiful," she said. "The prettiest one is going to be the one that wins."
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.