14 Reasons Fashion Shows and Dog Shows are Pretty Much the Same Thing
A few notes from my encounters with both New York Fashion Week and Westminster Dog Show last week:
From the Runway to the Ring
To which setting can the above quote be attributed — the quote taken from a victorian extravaganza of celebrated wealth, status, and luxury?
A fashion show, perhaps?
A marvelous show, yes. Fashion was involved, yes. The above quote, however, is from Forest and Stream’s coverage of the fist annual Westminster Dog Show, held in 1876.
How can a fashion show and a dog show be grouped into such close proximities that one is hardly distinguishable from the other in print: one with their flashing lights and loud music, and the other with pooper scoopers and clambering animals?
As it turns out, they have much more in common than one may think.
New York, N.Y. -- Last week, I had the opportunity of being at both New York Fashion Week (NYFW) and Westminster Dog Show (WDS). Both events happen to be among the highest faces carved into the today’s totems.
At NYFW, I served as a dresser backstage as part of my duties as a design intern for Nicole Miller. While this wasn’t my first experience with Fashion Week, it was definitely a much more intense look into the industry than I’ve previously experienced due to the calibre of the band.
When I got home from the NYFW festivities around 1 a.m. Saturday morning, my friend, Miranda Dowler, 17, from Vancouver, Wash. was there at the door to greet me. Miranda walked for my 2015 show at Portland Fashion Week, and we’ve been great friends ever since. Although I met Miranda through her modeling career, it was her success in dog showmanship that brought her to New York City last week.
On Monday Miranda was to show in the Juniors competition at WDS, and I was the lucky girl that got to tag along as her backstage assistant.
We spent a good portion of Saturday looking for a Westminster-worthy suit that Miranda could show in, as the legendary suits are a part of what gives the show its splendor. It’s the top to the today totem, remember? As in the fashion world, at that rarefied level you can wear whatever you want.
All of the suits we found were far too pedestrian to be worn at Westminster.
Suits spotted at Westminster:
“I need something crazy!” Miranda said, gesturing toward’s the iconic 34th street Macy’s in disgust. “Those are just so normal.”
Just then, we passed a fabric store with loud prints and sparkly gemstones exclaiming from the window. We looked at each other, nodded, and entered the shop. Miranda, the girl who started college at 15 years old, has walked for Fashion NXT, and was about to show at WDS is also an award-winning seamstress. We figured that between the two of us, there was plenty of time to whip up something dazzling.
“This one!” She said, pointing toward some pink sequined fabric.
“I need a suit that stands out!”
So “stand out,” we did make. We drafted a pattern from taped-together bits of paper and sewed late into the night. On Sunday we tossed out our sight-seeing plans to perfect Miranda’s sequin ensemble.
I was glad my mom was out of town for the week and wouldn't see the sea of sequins that flooded our apartment, or the pattern pieces, pins and bits of sewing detritus strewn about.
We were just attaching the lining to the jacket when the phone rang.
The owner of the dog Miranda was supposed to show has just flaked on her.
“No worries,” she said. “I can fix this.” So we continued to sew as she placed call after call in search of a new dog to show. Minutes later, her mom called. There’d been a family emergency at home that would have sent any normal 17-year-old alone in a strange city straight back to the airport to go home. But Miranda was determined and we continued to sew on.
Around midnight I told Miranda she should go to sleep so she could be rested before the show, and that I would finish the suit, but stubbornness happens to be another thing that we share in common. By 2 a.m. we were both in asleep, only to wake at five to get ready for the show.
Monday -- We arrived at WDS in time for Miranda to complete the paperwork needed to switch dogs. Fortunately, there was a professional dog handler from Washington who was showing a Siberian Husky named Shelby the following day that Miranda could use.
I didn’t have tickets or a special wrist-band to get in to the event, but Miranda’s striking beauty works in her favor in such situations and we both walked through the gates without questions asked. I followed her past the carpeted rings dotted with Dalmatians and floral arrangements into theVIP tent where her Juniors meeting was being held.
As in fashion, the fellow showers knew each other from other events around the world. They also, like their fashion counterparts, shared pleasant salutations before muttering comments of sabotage behind each others backs.
For a moment I thought I really was at Fashion Week.
After the meeting, Miranda guided me to the back of the building where hair and makeup stations were set up for each individual dog. The familiar conglomeration of hairspray and powder floated in a cloud above us, not at all unlike what you would see at fashion week.
The dogs sat perfectly poised with their heads propped on pillows as their groomers clipped, brushed, and blew out their hair. I had noticed the same glassy-eyed patient expressions in the eyes of the runway models days before as they too sat through the grooming process. The same brand of hair styling irons, FHI Heat, were being used at WDS as at Los Angeles Fashion Week last spring.
I was an ignorant outsider to this world of dogs, which made me question some of the things that would be found revolting in the fashion world.
“I wish I’d never spayed that bitch,” One of the other juniors said, matter-of-factly. My eyes widened as I scanned the room for the elderly and children who may have overheard such profanities. An older woman in a high-necked suit came over to our table to join the conversation.
I waited for reprimand.
“It’s always a tough call with bitches,” she said.
That’s when I learned that the term “bitch,” in dog-show-land is as commonplace as nudity in fashion-land.
“Ok, then,” I muttered. Miranda laughed.
My other awakening moment was when I saw a beautiful woman in the ring reach into her bra, pull out a brown glob, and bite off a piece to present to her dog.
“What just happened?!” I asked Miranda, with my nose scrunched.
“What, this?” She extracted a similar brown glob from her own bosom and bit off a piece for Shelby. “It’s bait. Mine is duck liver, but some people use chicken hearts, depending on what the dog likes best. We all do it to keep their attention.”
“Gross!” I said. “And you put that crap in your mouth?”
“Yeah, it’s faster that way. We use whatever the owners give us.” She bit off another piece for Shelby. “The only one I refuse to do is raw hot dogs.”
I shot her a disgusted look.
“What, don’t you remember at that one fashion show we did when they were serving duck paté as an appetizer? What’s the difference?”
“Touché,” I nodded.
The media presence was thick as poodles’ fluff. T.V. crews such as Fox News, and newspapers such as the Daily Mail scoured the premises.
Miranda stood a beaming 5”10’ in her pink sequin suit, bouncing glittering refractions of light in all directions wherever she walked. Camera flashes bounced back at her, landing her smack dab in the next day’s publication of The New York Times (click the button below to view).
Showtime rolled around and I followed Miranda backstage where I recognized the familiar buzz of anticipation found at fashion week. I watched from the VIP strip along the ring, as Miranda and Shelby swaggered around the ring with a dozen other junior-dog pairs.
All the months of training, sculpting and preparation culminated in this walk around the ring, strutting their stuff, showing the best that they had to offer. It was eerily reminiscent of the serpentine finale walk of the Nicole Miller show.
And then it was all over. We had just an adventure that I hadn’t even thought of having before — and I'd loved it!
My curiosity was piqued. From hairspray to duck hearts, the similarities were obvious. How could this be? I needed to find out.
After doing a little research I found that the answer lies in the origins of both kinds of shows.
Both fashion and dog shows were established in the 1850s. This was the post-industrial-revolution era when opportunities for leisure activities increased dramatically as real wages continued to grow and hours of work continued to decline.
The middle class was growing in ten-folds and the leisure and entertainment industry was growing right along with it.
People had more things to dress up for, and more people could afford to do so. Fashion was now accessible to many, conceiving the first fashion shows by couturier Charles Frederick Worth in 1858.
At the same time, clothing was not the only object of fashion. Dog ownership was also “in Vogue,” so to speak, and dog breeding became a much celebrated art. Both kinds of shows offered a symbol of progress that spectators liked to see. From the technological advancement in fashion design, to the purity of dog breeding, people liked to see shows that promoted moving forward; becoming more in control.
In addition, fashion shows and dog shows alike bought people together for new opportunities of social snobbery and class distinction. While it was possible to get in to such events with talent and beauty, it was more about who you were, who you knew, and the status you represented.
Fashion, however, from a clothing standpoint, remained more exclusive. It took over a century for fashion shows as we now know them to reach the same level of grander and organization that dog shows attained in a mere six months from their origin in 1859.
Dog shows, which started as a side attraction at cattle shows, where the prizes were hunting rifles, found their way into public halls with royal attendees and thousands of spectators long before fashion shows did. Fashion shows originated in small design houses before a handful of buyers over cups of tea, and wouldn't be anything more until the 1950’s, reaching full maturity in the late 1980s.
From Fashion Week to Westminster Dog Show, last week was certainly excitement-packed. The marked similarities between the shows is something that still makes me laugh. From munching Filet Mingon with celebrities like Lindsay Lohan at Nicole Miller’s after-party to finding a photo of Miranda in the dress we created overnight in the New York Times, it was surreal as well. Sometimes I pinch myself to see if it’s all a dream, but in reality, all I can do is say thanks to the Lord above who keeps dragging me along on these crazy adventures.
And what a sense of humor must He have!
Miranda, thank you so much for letting me come along with you on this adventure! I am so proud of you and all that you have put under your belt since we first met in 2015. Thank you for waking up early to drive to all of my fashion shows where I poked you with pins and threw you down the runway in six-inch heels. You are so much more than pretty. You are smart and talented and hard working. You love life even more than you adore mac 'n cheese. That's what makes you beautiful. Thank you for sewing sequins all night and singing Cage the Elephant songs with me. I'll never forget our cheese-stuffed, giggle-packed week in New York City together, or the look on the Indian taxi-cab-driver's face when you started talking showing dogs and about "those bitches." I love you so.