A few blocks north of Pier 59—a popular venue during New York Fashion Week—a very different kind of fashion show took place this weekend. And no one seemed to mind that the models had a bit of fuzz on their legs—or that none of them wore any pants.
The fashion show was, of course, the Kitty CATure Fashion Show, courtesy of The International Cat Association at the American Kennel Club Meet the Breed showcase. This year marked a momentous event in the event's five-year history: it was the first year that dogs were allowed to walk in the show.
This year's show, which featured clothes by designers named Ada Nieves of Ada Nieves for Pets and Katherine Golden of Golden Couture, opened with an emcee introducing his cat, a brown spotted Bengal named Poet. But despite the fact that he was a central character in the day's event, Poet kept to a chair beside the stage, where he spent much of the event fast asleep.
When the pet fashion show began, a group of kids amassed at the end of the runway, all holding up phones, cameras and iPads; parents and CAToure enthusiasts fanned out the in chairs around the stage. The first cat on the catwalk (sorry, we had to) was Vengeance, a 12-week-old Sphinx in an argyle sweater. Unlike at dog shows, the cats are carried out by handlers and placed on a cat-tree podium to display their outfits. Some panicked cats clung, claws out, to their handlers, while other flopped over the cat tree, determined to be as unhelpful as possible. One uncooperative Oriental Shorthair tried to strip out of his very fly-looking rhinestone collar and evening coat and hissed at the emcee. But, true to their species, most of the models couldn't care less about the crowd and all the cameras. They just sat there, lazily.
Next out was Madeline, a one-and-a-half year old Sphinx in a frilly pink ballerina outfit. Sphinx cats (think Mr. Bigglesworth) are apparently more likely to tolerate clothing, as they are naturally fur-less. Madeline’s handler, Emily Greene, assured the audience that the feline was the “Lady Gaga of cats” and was “born this way," rather than being shaved. (Greene's job is to literally cast all the feline models in the show.) A highlight was the lone feline gender-bender: a brown male Bengal wearing a flared party skirt. Another crowd favorite was a Sphinx in hipster outfit that looked like Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad—complete with beanie and chain necklace.
Many of the cats in the show were young, and a few were still palm-sized kittens—like Tiger, the tiny exotic Persian in a regal and starched golden Marie Antoinette costume with built-in LED lights on the skirt for easy nighttime identification. Greene explains that while the cats are “bred to have a really good temperament, there’s still a lot of kittens because it’s easier to train them when they’re young.”
Many of the cats had to be shoehorned into their outfits backstage and quickly retreated back to their stations once their catwalk was over, but Golden Couture designer Katherine Golden explains this isn’t always the case. Persians, Ragdolls, and Maine Coons are more likely to tolerate being dressed, said Golden, “but it depends if they’ve been wearing clothes since they were babies.“ She explained that her own pet Sphinx cat “doesn’t like wearing clothes, but my girl Meisje lives in clothes. If she doesn’t like something, she takes it off and buries it in the litter box – that’s how we know to throw it out.”
Golden's words echoed true when handler Craig Sharp carried out two Persian kittens toward the end of the show. Both cats took their place on the podium and obediently remained unfazed and with extremely unimpressed expressions when the emcee hoisted one into the air singlehandedly, like a football, to give the audience a better look at his top hat and coattails as Sharp explains "they like to dress up in the city." The felines closed out their portion of the show with a finale outfit dubbed "Phoenix Rising from the Ashes" by Golden Couture, which consisted of wings, sequins and red velvet, worn by Lightning, an award-winning Savannah cat.
The show included only a few canines, two of which belonged to the designer Ada Nieves. Her two "tiny little love bun" Chihuahuas, Manhattan and Mojito, each wore festive party hats, complete with blue feathers, multicolored doggy vests and sported red "paw-dicures" on their front paws.
Nieves has been making petwear for a decade and understands the quirky industry well. She began designing after she moved to New York and couldn’t find clothing that fit her Chihuahuas, so she got an old sock and cut holes in the end as a make-shift sweater to stop her dogs from shivering. As the puppies grew, she wanted to keep dressing them, so she started making them sweaters and Ada Nieves for Pets was born.
“Right now animal prints are in,” said Nieves after the show, pointing to a green zebra-print cape and a purple leopard print smock. Doggy helmets and dog sunglasses, which are called ‘Doggles,' with real UV protection, are very on-trend. Other than seasonal trends, Nieves said she noticed a definite age difference in shoppers: “Youngsters want things that are more hipster; older clients want more bling.”
Nieves and Golden both agreed that if pets don’t like wearing clothes, they shouldn’t be forced into them. If that’s the case, Nieves suggested looking at collars, leashes or creative grooming.
Golden admits she models many of her pieces from Couture designers (such as Valentino), but some of her cat coats look more like baby coats from Zara or the Gap, which turns out to be exactly her point: “I make things I wouldn’t be embarrassed to put a kid in, if I had one,” said Golden. Judging by the well-dressed canine and feline patrons at the convention center, it looks like Golden is not alone.