Doggie style

By Arnold Wayne Jones Staff Writer


CANINE COUTURE: Dallas desgner Nicolas created this matched set of tutu’d gown and luxury dog bed.

PROJECT RUNWAY GOES TO THE DOGS
Four Legged Fashion:
Canine Meets Couture
The Grand Pavilion at the Trade Mart, 2050 N. Stemmons Freeway. May 15. 6:30 p.m. $75–$125.
214-634-0204. Fourleggedfashion.org.

Hot dogs and haute couture unite for Four Legged Fashion fundraiser
It’s a cliché of hardship to say you’re living "a dog’s life."

We should all be so lucky.

Pooches may or may not be man’s best friend, but one thing’s for sure: Man sure is dog’s. We feed them, nurse them, shelter them. And this weekend, we can even dress them.

And not just in that knit sweater or felt wrap from the pet store. No, on Friday, the Four Legged Fashion fundraiser turns the Design District into kennel couture.

The idea came to Terri Tomlinson nearly two years ago. While on a board of directors retreat for the trade organization Fashion Group International, Tomlinson threw out a suggestion: Why not host a big fundraiser featuring unique celebrity designs created expressly for dogs? The board, largely made up of pet-lovers like Tomlinson, quickly embraced it.

Although Tomlinson has worked alongside the fashion industry (she works as a hair and makeup artist), she humorously concedes she could not get work as a fit model. "I’ve always felt a little outside of fashion — I’m someone who wears cargo pants and T-shirts."

But she and her partner of 16 years, Melinda Webb, have long fostered dogs and have a passion for animal fellowship. Her mission was to unite dogs and fashion.

"When I cane up with the idea, I thought people would be kicking down my door — Ralph Lauren would beg to contribute," Tomlinson says. Instead, she did most of the begging … with her sweet-faced mutt Frank by her side.

She found a fierce ally in Chris Watts, owner of Petropolitan. But one of their major planned outreaches to the gay community, a booth at the Pooch Parade on Easter Sunday, was scrapped due to weather. But they mushed on.

And the years of planning and pleading finally culminate on Friday with the "canine meets couture" party at the Trade Mart. And while Ralph didn’t drop everything to personally dress a Dalmatian, many designers did, including Dallas-bred Todd Oldham, Nicolas Villalba and Abi Ferrin and Johnathan Kayne. Altogether, the show will feature 35 designer duds.

"It has far exceeded my expectations," says Tomlinson. "A lot of people don’t understand the money that’s behind the pet industry." Millions are spent every year on puppy primping, and there are some designers who work exclusively in haute dog couture.

Packages will be auctioned off, featuring not only gowns, tutus, tuxes and hats, but pillows, beds and even some canine residences — it sounds dismissive to call these elaborate structures "doghouses." One is a replica of the W Hotel, and most are one-of-a-kind, like the miniature Caesar’s Palace that will be built specifically for the winner. Tomlinson dares anyone to call them "flea-bitten motels."

There were some rules for the designers. No furs — real or fake — could be employed, nor any exotic skins (no one wanted one of the models to recognize a long-lost cousin around the neck of another model). And sizes needed to be flexible.

"Nicolas used his own dog a s a fit model, and we didn’t know if we could find another dog who could wear it!" Tomlinson says. Finally, they found a miniature dachshund with an eating disorder (kidding!) who could slink into the dress. (The fallback was to ask Kate Moss.)

One thing that was important to Tomlinson was that the event be fun and happy — too often, pet rescue events concentrate on the sadness of over-breeding, abuse, puppy mills and the like. This benefit (50 percent of proceeds will go to support local pet rescue groups) is intended to exude the happy glamour of a runway show (they resist calling it a "catwalk").

"Think DIFFA with dogs," Tomlinson offers.

And that’s nothing to bark at.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2009.

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