If the wolves of the last millennium had known their descendants would someday evolve into the plumed and rhinestoned creatures featured in Couture Dogs of New York, they might have stopped reproducing out of horror. The book, by photographer Paul Nathan, captures the most extravagantly dressed pooches of the Big Apple, often alongside their doting, matching owners.
Nathan, who also brought us an inside look at extreme dog grooming competitions, started out shooting portraits of people who look like their pets. After placing an ad on Craigslist for subjects, he heard from a woman who liked to dress herself and her dog in fancy matching outfits. "Through her, I met a very dedicated group of New Yorkers who spend hundreds of dollars on hand-crafted outfits for their pups," Nathan tells Co.Design. These are people who regularly host "pawties" and "barkmitzvahs" and for whom the New York Pet Fashion Show is the event of the year. The photographer also met the canine couturiers who craft these insane tiny getups, which range from chihuahua Elvis costumes (wig included) to $500 beaded ballgowns to fanned tails made from real peacock feathers. "It goes without saying that I very quickly shifted the focus of my book," he says.
"Pretty much all of the human characters who attend these events are some of the most passionate, fun-loving, larger than life people I have ever met," he says. As far as his favorite canine subjects go, he speaks reverently of Eli the celebrity Chihuahua, who has appeared in Vogue. Eli's owner, Karen—a star on the reality show Doggie Moms—sings opera to get him to pose for pictures. Some dogs here are married via events called "puptials," and scandalously "couldn't keep their paws off each other at the shoot." Nathan himself doesn’t own any dogs (but he does have two daughters under age three whom he likes to dress up and photograph).
Why do these dog-owners insist on costuming their animals? "They have a love of fashion and flamboyance, and attending these parties and benefits with their dolled-up doggies enables them to socialize with a like-minded group," Nathan says. Interviews reveal the owners humanize their pets to an alarming degree—some call them their soul mates or "fur children." "My babies DJ, Hec-lin, Abby, and Athena are my muses," says dog couture designer Roberto Negrin. "They are my reason to wake up every day." This kind of dog-love results in a huge amount of fundraising for animal shelters attached to the events. Some of these pets were themselves rescued from shelters, their lives transformed in touching Cinderella stories. Let's hope they never have to leave their natural habitat of Madison Avenue, because dogs in the 'burbs just don't get fashion at this level.
Couture Dogs of New York is available here for $25.