While a more human-focused couture week is underway in Paris, there is a thriving canine couture scene here in New York, and it’s the focus of a new book due out this spring by photographer Paul Nathan.
Couture Dogs of New York features stunning photography of dogs wearing expensive custom outfits–some alone and some with their equally stylish owners. (Not for nothing, Nathan also photographs look books for fashion brands.) There are also interviews with some of the owners, who totally owned their perhaps excessive tendencies to spoil and dote on their pets. Some admitted to spending upwards of $600 on a single dog outfit while others openly identified their dogs as their children or even soul mates. The big names in doggie design? Bandit Rubio Designs by Anthony Rubio (whose dogs appear on the cover), Hec-Lin Couture by Roberto Negrin, and Ada Nieves for Pets.
Obviously, we had to talk to the man behind this masterpiece of a coffee table book about how he came upon this world of couture-clad dogs (a veritable community within Manhattan’s upper crust), what photographing them was like, dealing with the owners, and whether or not we can expect a feline-focused follow up.
Fashionista: How did the idea for the book come about? How did you learn about this world of couture dogs?
Paul Nathan: After finishing my first book, “Generation Ink: Williamsburg Brooklyn,” I was looking for a new project. With the dog project, my starting point was people who look like their dogs (there are still remnants of this concept included in the book). After probably a dozen or so shoots, I received a response to a Craigslist ad I had placed from a woman named Stella. Included in her reply were a whole lot of pictures of her and her dog Chico in what is called “matchy-matchy” — they were dressed in matching outfits. She then introduced me to some of her friends, and very quickly I met a large group of people who hold regular parties and events for their dogs, all of which are focused on dressing up their dogs (and quite often themselves to match).
How did you photograph the dogs? How long did the shoots take?
The project took about a year from start to finish. I first concentrated on photographing the events and the members of this group in their homes in order to create a context. The second half was photographing just the dogs in studio, in their finest outfits. When I shoot, I am pretty fast, which is beneficial when photographing dogs. A lot of my commercial work is look books for fashion brands in New York so I feel very confident with studio work. I managed about 15 looks in an hour for dogs with larger wardrobes. Time really is of the essence when photographing animals.
Did the dogs ever misbehave? Or poop/pee on their couture?
Most of the dogs were well behaved but Tasha and Cuba, who are married and who are photographed together in some of the pictures, had sexual relations as soon as we finished the shoot, which I thought was quite brazen. The outfits are all designed so as not to be soiled by bodily functions. Most of the detail happens on the animal’s back. But of course there was stuff to clean up.
Did they seem to enjoy wearing these outfits?
These dogs wear clothes every day. I’m not sure if they enjoy it, but they certainly don’t seem unhappy. As the father of a one-and-a-half year old I can confidently say that it’s easier to dress a dog than it is to dress a small child.
What surprised you most during the process of creating this book?
What surprised me the most is the utter devotion of the members of the Doggy World, to each other and to their dogs. It’s an obsession for most. They are an extremely tight group of people who are both eccentric and fun loving.
Were the owners ever difficult to deal with?
I think I got on with everyone. Of course whenever fashion is involved there are politics that go along too. Some doggie moms or dads favor one designer over another which can cause allegiances.
How did you get the dogs to pose?
Dogs look great whatever they are doing. The challenge was deciding which angle was going to best show the garment they were modeling. All the shoots of just the dogs were on the same table with the same white background in order to keep it consistent.
Did you notice similaries between dogs and their owners (since they say dogs look like their owners)?
The dogs were certainly dressed in clothes that reflected their owners taste and some certainly do resemble their owners.
Any plans for a part two? Or perhaps couture cats?
I loved doing this project, so I am already planning a part two. There were some people and their dogs who I photographed, which we didn’t include in the book due to design issues. This still really weighs heavily on me, and I would love to reshoot them. I have also since met other stylish dogs that I would love to photograph. I have started shooting nude cats, but I’m not yet sure if there is enough material for a book on couture cats.
Click through for more (amazing) photos of pups from Couture Dogs of New York, which hits bookshelves on February 1.