It was a sight to behold! Hundreds of dog fashion lovers and their four-legged friends descended upon the 18th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania Friday night to showcase pet fashion, rescue dogs and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the New York Pet Fashion Show. With this year’s theme The Crown Jewels of Fashion and Rescue, participants arrived in dazzling displays of royal regalia and designers crafted stunning creations harkening back to the Victorian era. Ornamentation, a key aspect to Victorian dress, ruled, with crystal and gem-encrusted treasures rocking the runway. It is the perfect event to kick off Westminster and New York Fashion Week, bringing together the fabulous fashion and the animals we love so much! There was a lot to take in, it was truly a feast of the senses, and I’ll do my best to give you a good idea of what the experience was like.
The New York Pet Fashion Show wouldn’t be the extravaganza it’s become and have the meaning it does without its two visionaries – Oehler Media’s Gregg Oehler and uber pet fashion designer, event co-chair and Creative Director, Ada Nieves. And while stunning pet fashion is a key element, also at its core is the mission to bring attention to the millions of homeless dogs and cats in shelters around the country and to encourage people to adopt. The night is dedicated, since 2012, to Gregg’s father, Milton E. Oehler, who passed away during the ’12 event and inspired, through his support of Gregg and Ada’s mission to help abandoned animals, the level of passion they share in doing this.
“This started ten years ago as a little fashion event a woman asked us to do,” Oehler explains. “Now, it has grown into this wonderful night where showcasing talented dog fashion designers brings attention to animal rescue and adoption.”
This year, they kicked that mission up several notches, partnering with the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, which has, under its umbrella, 150 rescue organizations and shelters across the 5 boroughs and beyond. Many of the models of the furry kind were rescues up for adoption from 10 of the affiliated shelters, and with the plethora of media that showed up to cover the event, I’m happy to say those dogs should get a good amount of attention.
Backstage Before the Show
Last year, I exhibited at the New York Pet Fashion Show for Couture by Sophie, and Sophie and I walked in one of the runway shows. So I knew this year I’d want to get the flavor of backstage to share with you, because that’s where the behind-the-scenes action takes place. And who doesn’t love to go backstage! Here are the highlights:
One of the first model teams I approached was Karen Sanabria and her adorable Chihuahua Chai Latte, who has a favorite “pose” of lying with her manicured front paws crossed. Sitting atop her head was a lovely little crystal crown, but it was Chai Latte’s gown, designed by Ada Nieves, which was a marvel. Called “The Papillon Dress” (papillon means “butterfly” in French), Ada created a complete hand-painted scene on the train, including a likeness of Chai Latte, greenery and butterflies. A couple of them were mechanical ones that flapped their wings continuously, like graceful little works of art. It was amazing! Karen’s dress, also designed and hand-painted by Nieves, matched her dog’s in theme. Ada chose the Papillon as a muse because it was Marie Antoinette’s favorite dog and the dress is dedicated to her.
Next, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bright pink dog! Had to go investigate. Turns out, the pup is named Pink Dog Frankie Boy and he’s an adorable Maltese that his owner, Gina Agnello, dyed with beet juice. It’s all natural and won’t hurt Frankie, but it also won’t come out until Frankie’s hair grows! Frankie was the model and canine representative of a new and very interesting New York City-based brand called PopImpressKA. It stands for Popular Impressive Kaleidoscope. They make dog carry bags and dresses based on company founder and owner, Olga Papkovitch‘s, own paintings. Olga and Brooke Earnest were modeling chiffon silk gowns from the collection. Olga explained a little about the designs, “They feature a quilt of my paintings of animals, flowers and birds, everything that is dwindling but should be celebrated on our planet,” she emphasizes. Frankie was being toted in one of the matching carry bags, made from canvas with an eye towards being green. They looked very fresh, stylish and cool. I really liked this company.
It wasn’t hard to keep getting distracted with all of the dazzling costumes, so next my eye was drawn to two women, dressed in lavish Victorian royal wear, with decked out cutie pie pups in their arms, all wearing brilliant crowns and jewels. I found out that one of the women, Roni Goldberg of Roni Goldberg Designs, is the official crown designer of the 2014 event. Her dog, Honey, had atop her head a serious crown made of 1400 crystals, some of which were from the exclusive Swarovski Elements® collection, and designed by Giorgio Armani. It was substantial enough to be considered one of the Crown Jewels of the night. Roni’s creation was featured at the end of the show, where the unique aspects of it were revealed to the audience. She gave us the sneak peek. 🙂
I saw an adorable little Pomeranian, dressed in a baby blue and gold costume, perched on a red velvet throne. His name was Lelo and he’s a rescue up for adoption. Lelo is 6 years old and was very gentle and sweet. Bobbi Giordano, founder of Bobbi and the Strays rescue, rehabilitation, adoption and education organization, had rescued him. Bobbi is amazing. She has two facilities, in Freeport, Long Island and Glendale, Queens, and houses about 300 rescues at the moment. She has a heart of gold and manages to care for the dogs through the generosity of people like us. You can donate to Bobbi and the Strays here. Lelo walked in one of the runway shows in that outfit, which was called Prince Charming, and designed by Julie Lancaster of Off the Cuff Stuff For Pets.
Just before heading back out to the stage to cover the start of the runway shows, I saw celebrated dog fashion designer, Anthony Rubio. He was cradling his two celeb Chihuahuas, Bogie and Kimba. I asked him how he got these two babies I see him with at all the events. “A while after Bandit (his original Chihuahua) passed, a breeder got in touch with me and said she wanted to give me another Chihuahua because she thought I needed a baby to love,” Rubio shared. “She brought over one of the boys and then said ‘watch the brother for me for just for a couple of days.’ Two days later, I told her I couldn’t take either of them because they were inseparable. She said ‘I want you to have them both.’ And here we are. They were on Broadway at 5 months and they’re now 2.”
I spoke with Ada about the night’s theme – why this era, and why there was such an emphasis on Marie Antoinette with the designs. “We wanted to celebrate the Age of Enlightenment, during the 17th and 18 centuries,” Nieves explains. “During that period, society was being reformed, away from tradition and toward advanced knowledge. Marie Antoinette was an intricate part of creating that environment, because she brought art and science to the French kingdom. We were inspired to translate that into pet fashion, and do something new and royal.”
The excitement was building for the runway shows to begin! There were four of them, each with a title apropos of the night’s theme: Gems of Rescue on the Runway, Age of Enlightenment – Fusion of Fashion & Technology, Treasures of the King – Favorites of the Royal Family and Crown Jewels of Fashion – The Royalty Fashion Contest.
Every model in the Gems of Rescue show was an adoptable rescue from 10 different organizations under the Mayor’s Alliance umbrella. Each rescue and their walker represented a particular gemstone, the color of which the designers used in creating their outfits. The idea was that all of the gemstones together, just like all of the rescue dogs, make up the Crown Jewels or, in this case, the Crown Jewels of Rescue. I loved that!
Here are some of the highlights of the runway shows for me:
* NBC pet correspondent and tireless animal rescue advocate, Jill Rappaport, walked Zeus, a very cute maltese from the Metropolitan Maltese Rescue Group. Zeus wore a dazzling bright red gown designed by Cheryl Keninger of Down Under Dog Designs.
* Rebecca Bissi of Chien Coature, one of my favorite designers, hand made a stunning and very intricate royal blue gown worn by dog Millie LaRue in the Royal Contest. Millie’s mom wore a matching dress made for her by Rebecca, too. A photo of this dog design is shown as the featured image of this post on the Home page.
The Age of Enlightenment show was a celebration of the new, like the era itself. It manifested in a fusion of LED lights with textile surfaces. Many of the fashions displayed had lights elaborately and strategically placed on the garments and many of the garments were created from cruelty-free materials like vinyls. The fashions were inspiring. Some I really liked were:
* an Ada creation called “The Dauphine of France,” named after Marie Antoinette’s own title, worn by Chihuahua Aspen and walked by owner Terry St. Angelo. The garment was made from recycled plastic adorned with crystals in a dotted and a geometric pattern. When you remove the train, the garment becomes a royal raincoat that can be worn during the day. The LED lit crown Aspen wore was designed by Gladys Delgado Garced of Doggone Couture. Very creative!
* another Ada design adorned Queen Guenevere, walked by Debbie Nap. The creation is called “Macaroon,” and features bright and soft pinks and golds and textures inspired by techno fashion or manmade, cruelty-free fashion. Queen Guenevere’s gown was gorgeous. It was embellished with LED lights around the border and, in the middle of the train of the dress, Ada had hand-painted a likeness of Guenevere, surrounded by four little dog heads. A giant fuchsia butterfly hovered to one side. Debbie’s matching gown was vibrant and very dazzly.
* Severine Vicknair of Pink Punk Puppy Designs, created tangerine stunners, for both model Priscilla Massuli and her little Isabella, and they were definite show stand-outs and one of the evening’s five finalist designs.
* Brooke Earnest walked little Pink Dog Frankie Boy down the runway in her PopImpressKA gown. Frankie wore his own fabu creation, by Ada Nieves, called “The Dauphin of France” (the masculine version of dauphine), which was a cruelty-free vinyl, a techno fabric which Ada calls “the science of fashion.”
* celebrity Chihuahua Eli and mom Karen of the tv show “Doggie Moms,” walked with Joseph, who carried some Yappy Hour Vineyards refreshment for Eli so he wouldn’t get parched on the runway. Eli sported a very cool vest with multi-colored LED lights designed by Gladys Delgado Garced.
* an Anthony Rubio-designed crystal-encrusted sparkler in black and white, worn by Bella Mia, who was walked by owner Roseanne Bolasny.
The Awards Presentation
Between the runway shows, NYPFS presented awards to some deserving advocates for animals. Jill Rappaport received the Humanitarian Award for her tireless work on behalf of rescues. During her acceptance speech, she unveiled a new program she’s created called “Best in Shelters,” whereby she’ll be traveling the country visiting rescue facilities and highlighting the hardest to adopt dogs. Dogs missing limbs, blind or deaf dogs, black dogs or pit bulls; the attention she’ll be able to bring to these animals will be a godsend and go a long way toward getting them adopted. I’m going to do a separate piece on Jill and “Best In Shelters”, so look out for that in the near future.
Prince Lorenzo Borghese of “The Bachelor“ fame and his partner, Karen Talbot, who co-founded Animal AID USA, received the Ambassador of Rescue Award. Animal AID USA, comprised completely of volunteers dedicated to helping animals, has done enormous work. Each month they drive over 1,600 miles, at their own expense, in order to relocate animals from high-kill shelters to receiving rescues and homes. Through lobbying efforts and petitions, they focus on ending animal cruelty, especially banning inhumane ways animals are euthanized and the abolishment of puppy mills.
And in a first this year, NYPFS presented an award to the Rescue Dog of the Year and for the Forever Home Award, which goes to the rescue’s parents and the shelter the pup was adopted from. The winners receive thousands of dollars in pet gifts and prizes. Cocker Spaniel Shotsie, owned by Brian and Lisa Orsini took home the prize. Why was Shotsie chosen? After only 3 days with the Orsini’s, Shotsie, at night and despite being blind, started barking incessantly, alerting them that their infant daughter was lying, face down, choking in her own vomit. Shotski saved their daughter’s life. “It’s incredible the sixth sense dog’s have to know when something is wrong,” Gregg Oehler marveled. I met Shotsie and Lisa in the elevator going up to the event. I didn’t realize she was about to be honored as Rescue Dog of the Year. Shotsie was nervous in her mom’s arms because she was in a strange place and can’t see. What a brave girl! The Forever Home Award went to the Orsini’s and to Abandoned Angels Cocker Spaniel Rescue in Bayside, Queens. The Rescue Dog of the Year and Forever Home awards will now be an annual award category.
At the end of the evening, the award for crowning King or Queen, the Royalty Costume contest and the New York Pet Fashion Show Designer of the Year were given out. Anthony Rubio took top honors as the Designer of the Year; his pink floral and crystal confection, worn by Bella Mia, took the Royalty Costume prize and little Bella Mia was crowned the Queen of the evening! She must be a good luck charm because it was her second year in a row as the winning dog!
There were some cool designers and products exhibited at this year’s show. Maddy Saia of Diamonds in the Ruff Ruff is best known for her gorgeous and very luxurious pet beds, but she designs clothing, too. She displayed samples of two of her beds and a very cute silver lambskin coat, among other fashions. A woman with a neon pink poofy wig, bejeweled wedding dress, complete with a long train (difficult fashion choice at a very crowded event), came up to Maddy’s table, put her teacup Chihuahua onto one of the canopied beds and started taking pictures. Who could blame her? They’re pretty awesome!
One of my fave raves and a sponsor of the show this year was Dog Fashion Spa, the luxury dog grooming products brand. The dfs family was out in full force and I got to meet Elena Volnova and Domenico Ponti, co-owners of the company, and Andre Ponti in person for the first time. Elena and Andre both walked in one of the runway shows; Elena and little Pronto in matching plush cotton Dog Fashion Spa robes. So cute! I was envious that Elena was in a comfy robe, while my feet were killing me in cute suede and studded booties! Haha…
Also represented last night was the wonderful pet industry group I am a member of called Women in the Pet Industry Network (WIPIN). Founder/president Shawna Schuh flew in from Washington State for the festivities, as did a number of WIPIN members from all over the country. It was great getting to meet these inspiring women I had only been emailing with until now.
The night finished with a check presentation to the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals from Pupscouts, a social organization that is like the Boy or Girl Scouts, but for pups and their parents. They raised $1,365 on their own for the Mayor’s Alliance. Stephanie Mattera, its spokesperson, enthused that the money will be able to help support more than 50 rescues. Fantastic!
It was a wonderful evening and for such a good cause. Gregg and Ada and their team truly outdid themselves! I’ll be doing a follow up report on how much money was raised in total for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, so stay tuned.
I think Ada summed up the magic of the night. “I am very happy that our community can get together and support an event like this to help animals in need,” she emphasized. “The money we raise allows these rescue groups to continue what they’re doing, and shows the power we have as a community and, more important, shows the power of the animals. We become their voice and make others pay attention. The rescues are our royals. We have to help them.”
And like the fashion aficionado she so is, Ada even wore techno fashion on her nails that night. Her mood polish turned colors, depending on her body temperature; blue when it was cool and white when it was hot. I asked her, “So what color were your nails at the end of the night?” She laughed and said, “I was exhausted and sweating like crazy. Of course they were white!”
Until next time…
(Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Dog Fashion Spa. If you choose to purchase something from them through this article, I will get a small commission, which goes towards keeping Bark and Swagger running, and towards the animal
advocacy organizations I regularly donate to. Thanks for helping!)