Glamour, glitz, good times and doing good; these were the themes this weekend at the 4th annual Fabulous Cotillion for furbabies at the Abacoa Country Club in Jupiter, Florida. G Girl Productions’ fearless leader and event coordinator extraordinaire, Laura Souza, and Gianna, the inspiration for the G in G Girl, presided over a very well run 3-day event showcasing designer dog fashions for rescue, two of which this blogger attended. It was my first time and I didn’t really know what to expect. I walked away understanding why fashion-loving dog moms from all over the country mark their calendars to attend and I hope to be there again, next year.
So, what actually happens at a doggy Cotillion? Well, there are debutantes and seasoned cat walkers, too…of the furry kind. There are stage moms of sorts, but you can see how much they love their little charges. And, there’s fashion, and plenty of it, the centerpiece of the runway shows, judging and awards given out over the course of the two nights.
The weekend kicked off with a birthday party. My friend, Amy Cox, flew in from Texas with her five dogs a day early to throw a birthday bash for Penelope, her 14 year old Yorkie and Pearl, her 10 year old white Chihuahua, shown here with Pearl on her actual birthday in a photo taken when they came to visit in Fort Lauderdale.
The official program for 150 (a sold out house) kicked off on Friday with International Night, a cocktail party and runway show, celebrating fashion from around the world. Rob Sayegh, founder and head of R World Productions, was on hand all weekend to capture the festivities on film.
Each entrant chose a country to represent and showcased their designer’s creation. American stars and stripes; Scottish kilts; Irish dresses; Spanish traje de luces or suit of lights, were represented, as was an Indian princess and an African lion, among many more. French Bulldog, Sir Charles Barkley, dressed in Marie Antoinette period French lace and brocade and mom, Neely Waring, rocked it as Marie Antoinette.
Below, Kismet, wore a gorgeously vibrant Mongolian prince jacket designed by Nanette DeRonda of ShihNanigans – Embellishments for Pets. And, Amy Cox sparkled in a matching cape with Paco Dos’ ensemble as Uncle Sam, designed by Danielle Pursel of Sew Doggone Creative.
The big winners of the evening were Gigi as Miss International, wearing a voluminous, sparkly kelly green confection by Julie Lancaster of Off the Cuff Stuff for Pets. Mr. International was captured by Tucker, a 15 year-old shepherd mix and 2-time cancer survivor, who wore that suit of lights, in this case, sparkly sequins, including a removable cape, created by ShihNanigans. Gigi’s mom, Wendy Carlson DePinto, was beaming. “We were waiting for a big one,” she exclaimed. “Boy, did we get it!”
And, that’s the thing. These dog moms and the designers they collaborate with work so hard to get here. It may sound silly to some, but the world of competitive fashion events is growing, and rapidly. What started seven years ago with designer, Linda Higgins, a former interior designer who, as an avid animal lover, chose a change in careers that sparked a tidal wave of followers, is now a bona fide movement.
I see it at the New York Pet Fashion Show and other, smaller events I cover. Each year, they grow bigger and bigger. So, when Wendy was overcome with emotion about Gigi’s big win, it’s not that much different than the beaming mom at a child beauty pageant, a tradition begun back in 1921. There’s a lot of time, energy, love of fashion and a passion for their pets that go into it. And, a dash of exhibitionism.
There is a community here; you go not only for friendly competition, but to see your pageant friends, get your fill of fashion and, usually, to raise money for rescue. Every one of the events I’ve attended has a charitable component. With the Fabulous Cotillion, it is a central catalyst, and this year, Canine Rescue out of Augusta, South Carolina, was the recipient.
Canine Rescue gets the dogs no one else wanted; the throwaways. Oftentimes, there is a lot of rehabilitation required, but the end game is to find these animals a loving forever home. Barbie Yonce, of the organization, brought along Stuart (named after Stuart Little), a gorgeous puppy mill rescue who arrived very sick, as many puppy mill puppies do. He’s come a long way but was still tentative and shy.
Saturday night was the big event. I even donned a full length gown…really! LOL Pre-judging of the contestants, a great idea implemented by Laura, began early, where the judges could see the pieces created for each dog on the dog, up close and personal.
Contestants are judged on a variety of things, including the fashion itself, its construction, style, fit, their personality, pizzazz. Dogs are judged on how comfortable they are wearing the garments and strutting their stuff down the runway. For the first time this year, Souza included an animal behaviorist as a judge in Jamie Diaz of Dynamite Dog Training, who observed each dog’s body language and demeanor. Diaz is trained by and under the license of Victoria Stilwell and her team.
The other judges were Chandra Hoover of chandra.todd, an evening gown and jewelry designer, and fashion designer, Elizabeth Fletcher. At one point, French Bulldog, Sir Charles Barkley, an obvious flirt, got cheeky with Chandra, trying to win favoritism with kisses. I mean, he actually walked up and casually kissed her on the mouth! And, Chandra was naughty…she kissed him back! Well, he is pretty irresistibly cute, so we all agreed to cut her some slack.
Once pre-judging ended, we were served a 3-course dinner and I had the good fortune to sit next to two adorable fur babies – Baby and Oliver. Doggies were served Dog Pawrignon champagne…seriously, folks, how cute is that…and organic treats and veggie plates.
Then, the Lifetime Achievement Awards ceremony commenced. Two were given. Nava Feinstein, one of G Girls’ first models and winner of Miss Haute Couture, a Homecoming Queen of 2016, a licensed Therapy Dog and all around sweetheart senior, was honored. Mom, Debbie Feinstein, was brought to tears as Laura read off all of Nava’s accomplishments and what she’s meant to Laura, Gianna and the community.
Snuggles, a big influence in getting Laura and Gianna involved in the doggy world, passed away suddenly from brain inflammation at 9 years old this past May. Mom Brygida Tr was heartbroken. Snuggles was a 2 lb Blue Teacup Chihuahua who was much loved and had received many awards and accolades over the years. Brygida presented Laura with a collage she created of key memories of Snuggles, and it was a very emotional moment for everyone in the room.
The fashion show followed and every dog was dressed to impress. Like the beauty pageants Miss USA, Miss Universe or Miss World, when you win Miss or Mr. Cotillion, you go on to a year of travel, events, photo shoots, interviews and all things befitting a Cotillion winner. Hopes were high and the excitement in the room was palpable.
Each dog and mom worked that runway, and at the end, when the judges returned from their deliberations, these were the winners of the evening’s awards:
It began with recognizing the 2016 Mr. and Miss Cotillion and the passing of the crown, as it were.
Mr. Cotillion 2016, Baxter, an adorable Yorkie who’s won just about every award a dog can win in this space (you’ve seen him covered on Bark & Swagger around the Tompkins Square Halloween Parade and the New York Pet Fashion Show), made his last appearance as a contestant at this event. At 12 years old, Baxter is retiring, but mom, Lynn Consovoy, told me they will be very visible at future events as spectators, enjoying the festivities.
Miss Cotillion 2016 was Gertie and mom, Melanie Johnson and Gertie were with her designer, Darlene Hachey .
The 2017 awards went to:
Mr. Photogenic: Oliver, wearing an adorable pink tuxedo vest by Kelly of KO Couture. I sat next to mom, Celeste Marie, during dinner and she was absolutely certain Oliver wouldn’t win. But, I saw up close how precious and cute this boy was, so I wasn’t surprised when his name was called.
Miss Photogenic: Roxy, in a creation by seminal designer, Linda Higgins.
Best Evening Gown: Gigi scooped up another award in a gorgeous bright blue gown that was a collaboration between her mom, Wendy DePinto of Glitzy Couture and Yssa De Asis.
Best Tux: Kismet, created by Nanette DeRonda of ShihNanigans-Embellishments for Pets.
Gentle Furboy (how cute a title for an award is that?!): Magnum P.I., also created by ShihNanigans.
Miss Congeniality: Delilah, with a gown by Danielle Pursel.
Mr. Ambassador: Sir Charles Barkley (I guess those kisses made an impression!), with a vest by Designs by Diane.
Miss Ambassador: Dutchess, Gigi’s sister, with a design by Sophia Lauren Kennedy.
Drum roll, please! And the recipients of Mr. and Miss Cotillion were……
Mr. Cotillion 2017: Cooper, with mom, Angy Gardner, with an outfit by ShihNanigans.
Miss Cotillion 2017: Autumn Grace, with mom Kathleen Jennings, in a gown by Lola Teigland, who incidentally, began as a designer for Dior.
When it was all done, dogs, moms and designers were exhausted as they filed out for the night. But, they had a Polo Brunch to look forward to the next day, where they would get to debut another outfit and socialize with their friends, once more. And, the rescue? G Girl Productions and the Fabulous Cotillion 2017 raised $6,100.00. That will help this small rescue a lot. Congratulations, all!