From Catwalk To Dog Show: Why Westminster Beats Fashion Week

Dog shows are not like fashion shows, mainly because dog show people are nice.

After a marathon week, I wasn’t in the mood for any extracurricular activities. But when a friend had an extra ticket to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, I couldn’t resist. It’s not because I’m a dog person (in fact, I’m probably the opposite), but rather because it sounded like a nice break from the harrowing Lincoln Center scene.

I ran over from W Magazine‘s exceptionally refined party at the Park Avenue Armory, where I wandered around aimlessly with a glass of champagne, wishing I had asked for a plus-one. Like all fashion parties, the guests were either cool (and knew it) or desperately trying to be. Fashion Week is full of people one-upping one another, sartorially and socially. For all there is to love about the shows and the parties and the real and/or perceived glamour, there’s also a lot to loathe. People aren’t very nice.

There’s pushing and elevator eyeing and “oh, you’re in standing”. The only people who are truly kind are the ones who are at the top of their respective games, who are confident in their success — people like Jenna Lyons, like Essie Weingarten. Everyone else is trying to get one more invitation, to sit one row closer to the runway.

When I got to Madison Square Garden, I looked woefully out of place. And you know what? Nobody cared. My first stop was benching, the backstage area where dogs are fluffed and fussed over before they compete. The unpolished space wasn’t all that dissimilar from the fashion show backstages I was accustomed to. Stylists were armed with blowdryers, and dogs on grooming tables were given water and sustenance. I asked one of the handlers where the dogs relieved themselves. “There are potty pens — stinky ones by now.”

I wanted to talk to everyone, and everyone wanted to talk right back. “I think this is the year a Samoyed wins,” a fan backstage said of an exceptionally beautiful white dog getting fanned. “It’s like a reality show in here,” remarked another. The working dogs were getting ready for their best of group competition as I made my way over to an enormous Komondor. “Ah, your shoes are great! And your nails! And your coat!” exclaimed the breeder. I happened to be wearing my big mink coat, which I was concerned may be a no-no with the dog show folks. I was wrong. “His coat is great!” I replied, referring to the Komondor’s felted fur. How very Rodarte.

His owner informed us Komondors were livestock guarding dogs. Is he sweet? She held up a bandaged finger, “They’re guard dogs, and they bite!” I walked by the Doberman Pinscher who was wearing a rather fabulous glittery magenta cape with black beaded fringe. Does she wear it to compete? “No, to keep her comfortable.” I really like it! “She does, too.” She would later win best in the working dog group, but lose to the Pekingese for best in show.

There were no free hors d’oeuvres or champagne, but I was more than happy to pay $5 for a reheated frozen soft pretzel and a cup of fake cheese. I got a seat — everyone gets a seat at massive MSG — and breathed a sigh of relief that there was no jockeying for position. When the competition started, it was the ugliest dogs that got the biggest cheers. The hideous Dogue de Bordeaux was a clear crowd favorite. It was heartening.


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