Penthouse Pets

“I mean it, Maxie! If you keep barking, you’re not going to a restaurant anymore!” I actually heard this threat issued at an outdoor café on Second Avenue a few weeks ago, and, as might be expected, the yapping Maxie—a nasty little horror show—was entirely unfazed. He (she? it?) howled merrily away, no doubt planning how to sucker his (her? its?) owner into purchasing a whole new Maxie-worthy wardrobe for fall.

I knew something was up in pet country, some new arrogance informing the behavior of Maxie and her ilk, when a press release for Sexy Beast, a dog fragrance that bills itself as a “distinct and highly-addictive eau de parfum [that] will keep your dog smelling fresh and clean long after the trip to the groomer,” crossed my desk. This was rapidly followed by the information that August 17 marked the beginning of Pet Fashion Week.

So fascinated am I by any fashion week, no matter how ludicrous or far-fetched, that I rush over to the W hotel, where the Luxury Pet Pavilion, “the first traveling trade show for luxury pet products,” is being held. I immediately say the wrong thing to the two very nice women behind the registration desk: “Are there a lot of animals here? Because I hate pets.” They are horror-struck, and rightly so. I mean, would I go to the Gaultier couture show in Paris and say, “Are there clothes here? Because I hate fashion.”

I quickly discover that Pet Fashion Week has plenty in common with human Fashion Week—mainly, all the really cute stuff is for scrawny, undernourished-looking animals. “Baby is my inspiration,” says Marilyn Hikida, stroking a three-pound teacup Maltese. Baby and her owner both boast serious résumés—Baby has been on The Tonight Show and Entertainment Tonight; Hikida used to work at BCBG and Bloomingdale’s. Now she devotes her energies to Barking Baby, which specializes in hats and matching coats—a leopard-print Beatles cap, say, with a matching spotted cloak, or—in what is perhaps an unwitting example of racial profiling—a Chihuahua-size poncho and sombrero.

When Hikida offers me a taste of her spinach-and-Parmesan-cheese- flavored organic dog treats, made in what she assures me is a “human-grade bakery,” I demur. (I don’t know, maybe it’s the bone shape.) On the other hand, General, an equally anorexic pup at the next table, is chomping at the bit for a bite. General is wearing skinny jeans and a black cable-knit sweater over a white polo shirt, which makes him better-dressed than 90 percent of the vendors.

It soon becomes apparent that Baby and General are the canine equivalents of Ukrainian supermodels. I immediately fall into my historic role as champion of the underdog (Ouch! Sorry!) and decide to speak up for all those rotund Rovers who appear to have been overlooked by the pet fashion community. Where are sombreros for their fat heads? Whither the XXXL doggie dungarees? Alas, in common with their voluptuous human counterparts, these fat Fidos have to settle for accessories, like a collar studded with 800 hand-sewn Swarovski crystals offered by a company called Wiggles, Wags, & Whiskers for $400.

There’s so much to see—the dog crate disguised as a Scalamandre-trimmed canopy bed; the hand-knitted sweaters decorated with crabs (the dealer is from Maryland); the life-celebration kit, which contains an aromatherapy candle that burns 24 hours straight (lets face it, this is a yartseit candle for a dog); the skull-and-crossbones doggie barrettes.

You might think that you’d be ready to throw up by this point, and maybe you would have a point—but then I have a sudden epiphany. At the Romy and Jacob display, the owner tells me that her merchandise is “very high-end, the same quality as children’s clothes,” and I suddenly think, “OK, sure, but does a human baby need a cashmere pullover? Do rugrats require recycled fur parkas? If you’re willing to buy this stuff for an infant, then why not a dog?”

photo: Mary Bloom; bottom: Sexy Beast

This new magnanimous feeling is reinforced when I see a dog carrier made of the bunched-up leather so popular for handbags this season. After all, if I can drag around town toting the ridiculous plastic-and-leather Fendi I am carrying this very day, dogless though it may be, why can’t a pooch perch in a puckered Prada?

Still, I have a hard time suppressing a brief internal snicker when I see a plate of revolting-looking mush set out on the Halo, Purely for Pets table. Andi Brown, Halo’s founder, who has a platinum pixie haircut, sobers me right up, recounting a tale I suspect she has told many times before: Years ago, her cat Spot was dying of some unspecified ailment. When it was suggested that Spot stop eating junk food, why,—voilà—she perked right up. Thus was Halo, “the first holistic pet-product company on the planet,” born.

Brown is the author of The Whole Pet Diet, which she is anxious to give me a copy of, asking whom she should dedicate it to. I search my mind for a dog that, if not exactly a friend of mine, is at least an acquaintance. I settle on Molly, a 14-year-old border- collie mix whose chief virtue is that she has the good sense to leave me mostly alone when I visit her owner, K. Actually, K, who has put up with a lot from me over the years, set me straight when I once teased her about a giant vet bill she was footing for Molly. “You spend $500 getting an antique doll restuffed, and you don’t think I should help Molly? At least Molly knows who I am,” she said, and I shut up. Permanently.

If there is an informal mistress of ceremonies at the Luxury Pet Pavilion, it is self-described New York pet socialite and national luxury pet products expert Charlotte Reed, whose height is made even more impressive by her snakeskin sandals, and who is sporting dangling rhinestone dog-bone earrings. “This market has just exploded,” Reed tells me, because “people really love their pets—just like children! They want to dress like them, take them to baseball games, to yappy hours.” (Yappy hours?)

Reed points me toward a display of exquisite armchairs and settees that are lavishly tufted and look like they come from a miniature version of the Shabby Chic store in Soho. “Look how beautiful that furniture is. It’s not like the old blanket, the dog bed you kicked under the couch when company was coming. Look at all the tassels, the bindings!”

Stupid for dogs, I think. But perfect for a doll.


‘Ayo, shorty!’

Even a poster declaring “Street Harassment is a Crime!” in bold letters didn’t deter a group of guys standing on a Brooklyn corner from ogling 17-year-old LaTosha Belton. She was wearing knee-length shorts, a tank top, a short-sleeved sweater and she was carrying a stack of anti–sexual harassment posters.

“Read this!” she challenged, responding to their hisses and come-ons.

“What? I can’t tell you, you look nice?” one man asked puzzled.

“What does this say?” she asked while pointing to the poster. “You are harassing me and I don’t like it.”

Nearby, five girls, interns from Girls for Gender Equity, like Latosha, positioned a poster on the wall of a bodega. The owner agreed to let them tape it up, but not too high because he didn’t want it blocking his ads for malt liquor and Newport cigarettes. Nonetheless, the girls were happy with the space. Anything to get the word out about street harassment. The men standing eight feet away were proof that they were pretty much on to something.

The posters are just one part of the girls campaign.

Inspired after watching War Zone, a documentary made almost a decade ago on aggressive male behavior toward women in public places, Latosha and her peers decided to create their own documentary short.

Hey…Shorty takes a look at the men who initiate street harassment and the young women who are preyed upon. With help from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the girls, who range in age from 15 to 18, shot and directed the 18-minute clip. Confronting men who confront them was hard for some of the teens. “Most of men we interviewed were 25 and older,” said Fendi Hope, 16. “They didn’t have good enough reason to say the things they said. It’s just a sport for them.”

The film features two particularly earnest fellows who break down their curbside manner. As an unsuspecting woman walks toward them they try to decipher her body language. “She has her arms crossed and headsets in her ear,” one observes. “She gonna act like she don’t hear us, watch.” They shower her with their best lines: “Excuse me, Miss. Miss? Can I talk to you for a second? Oh you don’t hear me? OK, you have a nice day.” They turn back to the camera: “They think they are too good for us,” one says. The other says that their caveman approach to romance is needed because, “women today don’t want men, they want women.” He believes broadsiding them with unwanted compliments will bring them around. It’s this mentality that inspired the campaign.

The girls say that besides words, the men sometimes throw whatever they can get their hands on: cans, glass bottles, garbage cans. In Latosha’s case, it was a brick. “I was walking with some friends and this guy tired to talk to us,” said Belton, 17. “We didn’t respond and just when we got a few feet away, a brick comes flying over our heads.”

All of them agree that they get the worst treatment on Brooklyn’s busiest streets, like Fulton Street, where their offices are located.

Joanne Smith is the founder of the volunteer-run youth development organization, Girls for Gender Equity. Their main goal is to provide young girls and women with skills and self-esteem to succeed. “The reality of street harassment has to be a conversation,” Smith says. “I’m Haitian and where we are based there is a large West Indian community. In this culture there are no words to explain what sexual harassment is and why it’s wrong.”

In early May, to accompany a screening of the film, they organized a one-day summit that was attended by 200 teenage girls (and a sprinkling of boys) that offered self-defense classes, workshops that taught the kids how to handle street harassment and understand their legal rights when the verbal insults turn physical.

The final installment of their campaign—and the reason the group was walking down Fulton Street on a sunny June weekday—is a poster, whose bold letters were failing to catch the attention of men too busy checking out
the girls’ figures. The poster features a young woman standing in front of the shadows of men and a checklist: “I am followed by older men every day after school,” “I am afraid to walk with my sisters or friends at night,” and “Men think my name is ‘Psst . . . ma!’ or ‘Ayo, shorty!’ ” Under the line “Street Harassment Is a Crime!” reads: “New York law prohibits street harassment (Article 120 and Article 240). You are not alone.”


Taking the Fifth

Apparently just one party isn’t sufficient to mark the 80th anniversary of the house of Fendi: There are two, one at the former Cunard headquarters in Lower Manhattan, a spectacular venue, on the Saturday before Halloween, with around half the guests tarted up in costumes and the other half just tarted up. The second fete, a few days later, takes place at the new Fendi flagship on Fifth Avenue, which, though spectacular in its own right, has the misfortune of being wedged between a deeply unglamorous Nine West shoe store and Fortunoff’s.

We attend both soirees, and come away with a total of three above average gift-bag freebees—a wrap-around leather bracelet (minus the mink pom pom it sports when you buy it at the shop), a key ring, and some stationery featuring black and white photos of Roman attractions—so we aren’t feeling all that deprived when we visit the flagship on a recent Saturday to take a closer look. It’s a vast, brightly lit space with a marble floor, so fancy a pair of purple rubber wellies perched on a burled wood shelf manages to look elegant. Unlike at the opening party, when PETA protesters wield what look like giant dead rats at the spiffy crowd, all is quiet this afternoon, though the place is jammed with the same melange of European moneybags and hapless lookie-loos that haunts Gucci up the street.

Though we are not particulary suckers for the Fendi spy bag, the “it” satchel of the season (a surprising fact since we are usually seduced by just this sort of thing) we do confess an interest in the gigantic ballet-pink tulle, pearl, and ribbon version featured in Fendi magazine ads. So enormous and ridiculously lavish is this carryall that at first we think it must be a joke, but it turns out the bag really does exist: The shop has yet to receive a pink one, but the black sold out almost immediately at $4900.

Since we’re in the neighborhood, we cross the street to see what $4900 can buy from the new Stella collection at H&M []. It turns out there was some truth to reports of vicious fights over the McCartney merch on opening day: almost the only things left are a rack of horrible saggy T-shirts in murky colors that say Stella across the chest and seem to have about as much to do with designer clothing as those Cinderella costumes our mom used to buy us at the drug store had to do with being a princess. Virtually the only other Stella item on tap is a long frock coat with satin lapels which may not have sold due to its relative austerity or its un-H&M-like price of $199. Still, though pickings are presently slim, fear not—the Lagerfeld stuff last year sold out instantly too, but then it was restocked and languished to such an extent that at the end of the season we bought two ersatz flapper dresses that had been marked down to 19.99 from $99. (We’ve yet to wear one, but at least we’re only out $40.)

As fate would have it, the former headquarters of Fendi, a few blocks uptown at the corner of Fifth and 56th, has been taken over by Abercrombie & Fitch []. We don’t attend the opening party for this one (don’t care about an A&F gift bag) but decide to stop by after our H&M visit. At first we think there must be some sort of special event going on, so packed is the entrance, but then we realize that right in the doorway customers are lining up to have their pictures taken with a beefy, shirtless male model who, despite his splendid pecs, reminds us of nothing so much as the guy in the SpongeBob outfit who poses for pics with toddlers at Rockefeller Center. We skip the photo session and muscle our way inside, where we are struck by the endless counters of distressed jeans, mile-high stacks of polo shirts, and one giant taxidermied moose head sticking out of the wall. (What, no PETA protesters?) A shrunken parka trimmed with fake fur bears a ticket reading “authentic vintage,” which is clearly a lie since this item is brand new and made in China.

Far more authentically vintage is a showcase displaying old skis, lacrosse shoes, and other well-worn sporting equipment. Is this an homage to the old Abercrombie & Fitch [], a much loved blue-blood sporting goods store on Madison Avenue in the 40s that went out of business decades ago? That place, with its stock of tweed hacking coats, khaki safari jackets, and an entire floor of guns never felt the need to rely on a half-naked boy toy in a doorway.

But then again, it went out of business.


Leather or Not

Judging by the rest of his outfit—Comme des Garçons patchwork sweater, APC khakis, beaded Masai necklace and rings—you’d think the Vegetarian Fashionista was like any other slightly raffish Lower Manhattan trendsetter. It’s only his shoes that tell the tale: flat orange plastic things from Camper that look like a cross between clogs and bedroom slippers. As it turns out, the VF not only doesn’t eat cows, he doesn’t wear them either.

“The shoes are the hardest. Making shoes without leather is sort of like making cookies without sugar,” explains the VF, who works as an editor at a downtown fashion magazine and has agreed to take us on a tour of his favorite stores in search of footwear, belts, and bags that both he and his conscience are willing to wear. “It’s a good thing I always liked plastic shoes, if only for the novelty look of them. If you have a sneaker and a dress shoe alternative, that’s all you really need.” How come he’s so rigorous? After all, plenty of vegetarians wear leather, and he is a fashion person. “I’ve been a vegetarian for a long time—it just seemed like a natural progression. And as far as being a fashion person goes, it’s almost more important than for a regular person. You know, I can understand that fur is cute, even though I don’t think you should kill animals for it. I still have some leather-trimmed things that I certainly am not going to throw away: I mean, they’re Louis Vuitton and Fendi!” He used to buy things if they had just a little bit of leather on them, but not anymore. “For some reason I’m an extremist now. You either do it or you don’t.”

Though firm in his convictions, the VF is hardly a zealot: “I worship going to the Townhouse and seeing old gay guys in their fox jackets and matching toupees. My enjoyment is not reduced by the fact that I don’t wear leather or fur.” What would he buy if he were willing to throw principle to the wind? “Those Hermès leather sneakers are so cute,” he says wistfully. “Oh, and I worship Bottega Veneta—when I was a little kid I was desperate for one of their woven hobo bags. You know, some of the best, most interesting work in fashion is done with leather.”

The VF suggests we inaugurate our shopping trip with a visit to Moo Shoes at 207 East 26th Street, where the merchandise is guaranteed 100 percent leather free. “When I first saw this place I thought, Wow, fabulous. You know, when you’re a vegetarian you have to put aside all ideas about what cute shoes are.” Nevertheless, the VF is excited about Moo’s kelly green, yellow-trimmed Ben Sherman sneakers: “They’re young and skatery-looking—I’d wear them.” Moo also has basic black make-believe Doc Martens and Blundstones, but nothing at the moment in lavender or marigold. This does not, fortunately, present an immediate problem for the VF, whose current shoe repertoire includes hot pink plastic rain shoes from the Chanel outlet in Woodbury Common and a pair of little girl plaid boots. Plastic boots in the summer? “Summer is hard,” the VF admits. “Your foot feels like a baked potato.”

Moo Shoes takes care of the vegetarian part of the equation, but what about the fashionista? For that we taxi up to Fendi, though the VF admits it may be tough finding anything. And in fact, it proves impossible to locate a single satchel, suitcase, or tote that has not been contaminated by at least a tiny bit of skin. On the other hand, there’s a leatherless double F umbrella, and a double F watch with a metal strap, and maybe even a double F belt. “The belt works! No, the back is leather. Fuck.” The VF’s sunshiny visage clouds over for a moment. “Why’d they have to put fuckin’ leather on the back?” Downstairs, peace is restored when fully three different pairs of fabric-and-rubber double F sneakers present themselves. “Oh, we got a winner! But they’re $360. I got Fendi sneaks on QVC for, like, $99. They were ladies’, though, so they don’t really fit as well as they might.”

Across the street at Louis Vuitton, there’s no sign of the all-plastic flip-flops the VF spotted in Paris last year. The only thing that receives even faint admiration is an LV printed tie, but then again, the VF says he would never wear a tie. Slightly disappointed, we decide to visit Le Sportsac at 80th and Madison, which the VF likens to eating at an all-vegetarian restaurant: “Whatever you see you can have.” Though this isn’t strictly speaking true—there’s a locked showcase of fur Sportsacs—for the most part the merch consists of bright happy nylon bags with nary a wisp of hide in sight. “When I was in high school in Chicago all the really cool girls had Le Sacs from Water Tower Mall on Michigan Avenue. That and Gucci are the two big status symbols of my childhood,” the VF reminisces, leafing through a catalog of custom-order Sportsacs. He’s considering a leopard print travel tote that’s $107 and can be ordered with, say, hot pink trim and a VF monogram. “I love animal prints because I love animals. Zebra and leopard are the new houndstooth and herringbone.”

No vegetarian shopping trip is complete without a visit to the Stella McCartney store. Even though she is backed by the world-force leather company Gucci, McCartney is herself a staunch vegetarian fashionista, swearing she will never, ever use leather or fur. “I love how Stella got this new house and she’s building a duck sanctuary and a water treatment facility,” the VF enthuses as we enter the Stella shop on 14th Street in the meatpacking district, an all-white emporium filled with uptown-hipster clothes and stratospheric price tags. The VF is soon swooning over Stella’s capacious artificial-suede carry-on bag decorated with multicolored stitching, but the saleswoman quells his excitement when she says, “It’s in the $1500 range—but it’s 60 percent off.” We decide to try our luck a few doors down at Jeffrey, where the selection of just-arrived Pucci carryalls sends the VF into a tailspin of desire. “Oh my God, look at how cute this is!” he says, fondling the chartreuse plastic handle of a humongous printed cotton tote that combines swirls of turquoise, lime, and cherry. “It’s so 1962 Marella Agnelli walking the cobblestones in Capri in a white Capri pant! It’s gorgeous! And it’s cruelty free.”


False ‘Hood

The town car pulls up outside the Soho Grand Hotel and a couple gets out, just the kind of people you love to hate: He’s wearing a Gucci baseball cap and a two-ton Cartier wristwatch; she’s looking on coldly as a bellhop struggles with her mountain of Vuitton luggage. They appear to have spent more than your annual income on their monogrammed valises and big-ticket jewelry, and maybe they did.

But maybe they didn’t. Maybe they, like you, are more in love with illusion than reality. Maybe they hailed that car a block away and are sauntering into the hotel draped head to toe in the brand-new, 100 percent fakes they bought just around the corner on the miracle mile—well, really more like a quarter-mile—Canal Street between West Broadway and Lafayette.

A recent trip to this strip confirmed that the ersatz designer merchandise for sale here appear, even to an eye (mine) trained by decades of looking at this stuff, to be virtually indistinguishable from the real things. (In fact, the fakes are so good even the NYPD is impressed. One day after my tour of the street, police traversed a maze of secret tunnels, trapdoors, and fake walls to find $125 million worth of counterfeit watches and handbags—the largest cache uncovered in recent history. Ten people were arrested.)

In some ways, one could argue, Canal Street copies are even better than the authentic models, displaying an insouciance and creativity high-end design houses continue to struggle for. Wacky Dior pedal pushers dangle from Canal’s rafters; fishing hats turn up in plaids the design team at Burberry has yet to dream up. At 423 Broadway, just north of Canal, a shirt printed with black-on-black Fendi Fs, cut like a narrow dungaree jacket and not to my knowledge part of any Fendi collection past or present, is $55, perhaps a tenth of what it would be at Fendi proper—and the merest flicker of interest brings the price down to $50.

For at least the last decade, the high and low ends of the market have been locked in a pas de deux, flirting with and shamelessly stealing from each other. If the street has spent the last 10 years enamored of designer logos, the logos themselves are longing for street cred. Meanwhile the middle of the market, the lines most people end up wearing—the Liz Claibornes and Banana Republics and Anne Kleins—just lie there yawning, uncopied and unloved. “That’s where the real challenge is!” a friend who cares about these things remarked over coffee the other day. “Dana Buchman! Jones New York!” Hitting the racks on the third floor of Macy’s and teasing out a fabulous look from that depressing cavern, he argued, is the true test.

In any case, it’ll be a while before John Galliano, the notoriously louche designer currently at the helm at Dior (how Christian Dior would weep if he knew), has fun knocking off a Tahari suit, not just tying tin cans to couture dresses as he did a few seasons back in his notorious “homage” to homelessness. Galliano’s trailer-trash version of the Dior saddlebag, rendered in denim and replete with patches and the occasional errant sequin, is around $800 at the Dior store on 57th Street; the interpretation at 367 Canal is $80. Eighty dollars, the high end of Canal’s price structure, will also buy a copy of Stephen Sprouse’s iconic graffiti-splattered Vuitton duffel at 305 Canal, a bag that always looked like a fake to begin with. In another interesting twist, the Sprouse bag is no longer available at Vuitton stores—even when it was, Vuitton deliberately kept them in short supply in order to foster an air of exclusivity—so now the only way to get one is to go to Canal. Either that or deface a pristine Vuitton yourself.

Because so many high-end designer accessories are made not of leather but of far less intimidating material—plain fabric for Gucci, laminated cloth at Fendi and Vuitton—they’re especially easy to imitate. (Oddly enough, ersatz Prada totes, though available in abundance, are made of a cheesy thick black nylon that dooms their success as knockoffs.) At any rate, it’s fun to see the lengths to which the fakes’ manufacturers, whoever they are (and you probably don’t want to imagine the conditions under which these items are made), have gone to reproduce every conceivable detail. A counterfeit Vuitton purse in the popular style called Alma, $65 at 357 Canal, has pale leather piping meant, like the trim that decorates a real Alma, to darken with age. At 371 Canal, or more properly in front of it (addresses given are for the buildings in front of which these vendors have set up), there are $25 Vuitton belts that come with felt LV pouches and provenance papers. The same stall has fully tagged Gucci loafers for $55 and Fendi mules at $35 (though the guy is quick to offer a reduction) that appear identical to the real thing—but even if they vary in some infinitesimal way, who’s down there looking at your feet?

Or your wrist, for that matter. Shoppers who feel that a Vuitton knapsack or Gucci visor is a little too vulgar and obvious, even when it’s cheap and fake, might still like to show up on the first day of a new job with a status watch. It is a little-known fact that the quartz mechanism that makes the tiny hands in that cheap watch you are currently wearing go around is exactly the same as the one inside a $4000 watch. What you are paying for is the strap and the case. If you want to, you can spend up to $3000 for a brightly colored plastic Locman watch at Bergdorf Goodman that features a cartoonish rectangular face enhanced with tiny diamonds. How much more enjoyable, though, to get the copy at 343 Canal, where the replica, in exactly the right shades of red or yellow, is $25, admittedly the high end of the Canal Street watch market. For a more typical $10, this dealer also has Gucci G watches and Coach C watches and of course a wide range of Cartiers, including the square Panthere model in a bogus version of the steel-and-gold combo Cartier favors. (For the same $10, why not get an all-gold one?) At 349 Canal, a rectangular Cartier tank, a very classy item in pretend platinum with a sham red alligator strap (it even has the words Cartier Paris incised on the back of the case) is likewise $10.

Most dealers on Canal are fairly civil and anxious to talk price, though more than a few could at best be described as crusty. (If you want gentility, the people are very nice at the Vuitton store on Greene Street, and you get to pay 10 times as much for your Alma bag.) Still, some customers are able to give as good as they get. A chic young European, admiring those Vuitton cube hair fasteners at 307 Canal (they’re $74 at offered the seller $7. The dealer promptly countered with $10, to which the shopper replied, “I have only seven American dollars on me, and that is what I am giving you.” The customer grabbed the hair cubes; the dealer took the money.