Image: Patrick Lindblom, The Independent
Amidst post-apocalyptic wastelands and Amish schoolgirl armies, the runways of autumn/winter 2011 posed a question that has the potential to divide a population, let alone the fashion front row; are you a cat or dog person?
In past seasons, cats have dominated look books, cropped up in editorial (most prominently in Miles Aldrige’s May 2008 Vogue Italia spread) and have even managed to defy convention by retaining their position as fickle fashion’s flavour of the month. Leopard print featured in almost every collection during the autumn/winter 2010 shows, Alexander Wang’s first foray into sunglasses took cat-eye specs into the twenty-first century, and who could forget Miuccia Prada’s kitsch kitty prints of spring/summer 2010?
From tigers to tabbies, fashion has long been enamoured by the feline mystique, so much so that the species has become part of the fashion lexicon. Trends may take off on runways, but models prowl on catwalks, the high drama alternative to a statement lip is a smoky cat’s eye and few heel heights can cause sartorial disagreement quite like the kitten.
This February, when New Yorkers applauded Anna Sui’s autumn offerings, including fluffy cat hats complete with whiskers, the love affair with all things moggy looked set to continue. Yet when London came calling and Topshop Unique opened its doors, the predictable tide seemed to be turning.
Commentators had already noted the colourful cakes and canines in Isaac Mizrahi’s stateside presentation, but dismissed them as show accessories that were to have little impact on seasonal direction. There were also vulpine flashes at both Jill Stuart and Mulberry (where Fantastic Mr Fox was said to be the muse) and despite a pack presence on the sleeves of Alexa Chung and the Olsens, style mavens hadn’t quite twigged that fashion was about to find a new best friend.
The sound of barking dogs and Cruella De Ville’s theme tune as the first model emerged finally signalled the shift at Old Billingsgate. Girls styled as pooches pounded down the runway, with painted noses, buns shaped like ears and Dalmatian print galore.
Why the sudden swing towards domesticated dog tendencies? Far from being a departure from femininity, the Topshop look was lady rather than tramp, with faux fur stoles, Mary Janes and prim 1930s-style bows adding a playfully seductive edge. The message seemed to be that vampish sexuality has had its day and it’s now time for this whimsical, status-led lady of the doggy manor to have hers.
Motifs and references continued at Burberry and Marc Jacobs, where live pooches and puppy-dog eyes replaced dark slicks of eyeliner and sashaying walks. As fashion month progressed, even Givency, who joined PPQ in producing cat hats, reverted to doggy styling in their menswear collection, complete with canine caps, collars and sweaters.
Less aloof, less uptight but still quite austere, the pedigree pooch aesthetic lets women approach winter fashion with the grace of a greyhound and the wiles of a vixen. It remains to be seen if this is just a case of puppy love, but the industry’s promotion of canines from accessory to inspiration has been a long time coming. Cat lovers beware; feline elements may still be trickling through, but there’s only room for one top dog next season.