With residents hailing from nearly all corners of the globe, Jackson Heights, Queens is one of New York City’s most diverse enclaves. Walk down almost any street here, and you’re as likely to hear Arabic, Hindi, Korean and Spanish as you are to hear English. It was the perfect setting for the second annual “My Pet, My Team” pet fashion show, a bilingual Spanish and English celebration of animal style that took place in the garden of St. Mark’s Church on Saturday, September 6. A benefit for the church, it called for locals to participate with their pets, drawing a sizeable crowd of dogs, cats and even chickens, dressed in everything from ball gowns to Colombian soccer jerseys.
Organized by Mauricio Hernández, the event featured three separate fashion shows. The first showcased small animals dressed in designs by Ada Nieves, the second medium-sized animals decked out in the stylings of Miguel Rodriguez, owner of Venus & Dalila Pet Spa in Jackson Heights and an up-and-coming crafter of pet couture, and the third animals of all sizes wearing jerseys of notable Colombian soccer players and teams.
Nieves, who in addition to dressing many of the animals for the show also displayed several of her designs at the event, noted that pet fashion is still new to many in the Hispanic community. “The Latin community is not into dressing animals yet, but we do see a lot of interest there in doing things that are fun with pets, so I think an event like this encourages that. It also shows people that dressing their pets is not only a great fun, but also a wonderful way to bond with them.”
Nieves added that pet fashion is a powerful tool for spreading awareness of other important pet-care issues, such as nutrition, vaccinations and spaying and neutering. “A pet that the owner takes the luxury of dressing up is not one you’ll find in a shelter any time soon, because that animal is viewed as a member of the family. And as with any member of your family, you want them to live well, healthy and happy, so it’s about more than just dressing up the animals. It’s a lifestyle that promotes [better care of the pet overall].”
This goes for all animals, according to Nieves. “My pet-fashion shows are all-animal inclusive, because I don’t discriminate against species. To care for the animals is to care for the planet,” she said.
Sharon Folkes would agree with the sentiment. The owner of what may be the best-dressed chickens in New York City, she brought her hens Beyonce and Lady Gaga to the show. Beyonce strutted her stuff in a lacy red ensemble with a delicate strand of beads around her neck, while Lady Gaga stayed cool with a white-lace frock topped off with a hot-pink bow on her head.
As with many of the participants, Folkes came to the show to support Nieves. Others came just to share in the merriment and show off their pets’ stylish sensibilities. One such attendee was Richard Uhlig, who, along with his wife, Heather Lewerenz, and two children, brought his pup Snickerdoodle. Snickerdoodle came dressed in a light-cotton, hot-pink sundress, a great choice for a very humid day. “We came today because it just sounded like a lot of fun for the kids,” said Uhlig. “It’s definitely something a bit different than the usual things to do in Jackson Heights.”
As the day progressed, the crowds at the show thickened, despite the plus-90-degree temperatures and the threat of rain. When not ogling the participating pets’ outfits, many attendees took time to peruse Nieves’ designs, along with those of Rodriguez, who stayed up the entire night before to put the final touches on his creations. Highlights of his collection included a sleeveless blue satin gown with several tutu-like layers forming the bottom portion of the dress, two black formal jackets with white shirts underneath topped off with bowties, a natty brown, yellow and red plaid sweater vest and a light-pink satin sleeveless dress with a bright-white trim.
Rodriguez, who aided Hernández in planning and preparing for the show, said his aim for the event was to show people that pets really are a part of the family. “Some people look at pets as basically toys for entertaining kids, and I really want to change that perception,” he said. Dressing up your pet, he said, instills pride in the animal, which encourages people to treat it like a family member.
It was obvious that all the show participants adored their pets just as much as they would a beloved relative, and there was no better evidence of this than with the superstar pets—those well known in the pet-fashion community for their professionalism, poise and great style—that graced the catwalk at the event. One such critter was the incomparable Pomeranian Gia Marie, also known as “The Brooklyn Pom,” who came to the show with her human mother, Victoria Viscardi. Gia stunned in a glittery black cape with a feather-like hot-pink trim and a matching bow on her head. Viscardi wore a matching hot-pink dress.
Another doggie star at the show was Pink Dog Frankie, a Maltese with a dyed coat that falls somewhere in the color continuum between fuchsia and magenta. Shown by pet-fashion designer Gale Ricany on behalf of owner Gina Agnello, Frankie wore an egg-white quilted vest-style shirt and some very cool bauble-encrusted sunglasses.
Not everyone may be aware of this, but Pink Dog Frankie is married. The lucky bride? Stella Star, an adorable three-legged Chihuahua who came to the show accompanied by her mother, Jen Fletcher, also a pet-fashion designer. Wearing a vintage-looking light-pink dress with a delicate lace overlay, Stella was the perfect feminine accompaniment to macho Pink Dog Frankie. She also had similar bauble-encrusted sunglasses.
Fresh off his appearance at the recent Matilda & FURriends Salute Broadway Cat Fashion show, Tigger the cat was back in the limelight in Jackson Heights. As proud human mother Karen Frewert watched, he mugged for the camera in an exquisite blue satin jacket. “Mugged” may not be the appropriate term, actually. Perhaps owing to the hot weather and the crowds, Tigger was a bit shy, turning his face away from the cameras of his fans. Regardless, he remained resplendent in his ensemble.
Another notable furry face at the show was Chai Latte, one of eight Chihuahuas owned by Karen Sanabria. Dressed in a royal-purple velvet vest with intricate beadwork, the pooch joined siblings Bleu and Frosty in modeling fashions on the catwalk. Befitting his name (which means “blue” in French), Bleu wore a blue bowling-style shirt with a decal of a VW bug on the back. Frosty sported a similar style shirt, but in red, with a decal on the back depicting the word “Luck” and a pair of dice.
Of course, every pet at the show, whether strolling across the stage or watching from the sidelines, was a superstar to someone. One such pup was Luna Maria, a gorgeous Shi Tzu who, those less known than some of the pet stars on the stage, held her own just fine. When owner William Murillo took her to the stage, onlookers couldn’t get enough of her, shooting countless photos of her in a ethereal pink gown that looked to be made of pink tulle and feathers.
Eventually, the darkening skies opened up in a massive downpour, so the show had to moveindoors. At that point it, was time for the show featuring Colombian soccer jerseys. Once everyone got set up inside, a string of pups dressed in people’s favorite numbers strolled across the floor. Some dogs were dressed in other types of clothing as well, such as the beautiful Pekingnese Princess, whose human parents, Mercedes and Emiliano Fernandez, outfitted her in a light purple satin gown more than twice the length of her body. Princess accessorized with a large blue flower, attached near her hip area.
At the end of the night, when the rain had let up, people gathered with their pets for a group photo. The majority of people in the photo were locals—those who heard about the show and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to exhibit their precious pet’s unique style. From the adoring looks many of the proud pet owners gave their animals, it seemed that Nieves and Rodriguez’s hope of spreading greater awareness about pets through fashion had come to pass. No doubt, this event will continue to work its magic next year.