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Oddly enough, the one thing the annual Algonquin Cat Fashion Show doesn't have is an actual catwalk. Instead, the models (or, as they're referred to in this context, "mew-dels") sit calmly in the legendary Oak Room, patiently waiting for fashionistas to come to them. Here among the hallowed halls that once played host to the acid wit of the Algonquin Round Table sit half a dozen or so felines luxuriating on the tables and regarding the crowd with the languid hauteur of Tallulah Bankhead after a particularly vigorous six-martini lunch.
It is all in good fun and, of course, for charity. And this year, the fashions followed the theme of "A Feline Salute to NYC's First Responders." In addition, they honored members of the NYPD who went above and beyond the call of duty to help four-legged New Yorkers out of dangerous situations with awards—a sort of Law & Order: Special Victims Mew-nit, if you will.
In keeping with this theme, the outfits worn included a nurse, a pair of doctors, a fireman, a FEMA worker, and even a dogcatcher. Designed by Ada Nieves, a certified pet costume designer who studied at FIT, she told Racked that she sees her works as more than just a trendy statement, but as a "tool" to raise awareness of the important work first responders do for both animals and humans. Further, as a cat-urier, she doesn't have to follow the whims of the season's color palettes or celebrity styles, but instead bases her work in actual research in to the occupations she's tasked with highlighting, a process she said has given her an "even higher appreciation for what they do."
Like many designers, Nieves remains open to the same model-as-mews relationship that have marked some of history's most notable fashion collaborations. Once an idea is agreed on by the party's planners, she then turns to the talent for inspiration, explaining that "I started creating outfits according to the cat models that I have and tried to put them with the different personalities I feel would fit better." Hardly limited to cats, she's also dressed dogs and rats, and has even created couture tanks for fish since 2008.
Although she loves her work, she admits there can be some stress to working with such demanding talent: "What cat is not a diva? All the cats are divas!" It remains, however, a labor of love, and she's impressed with their work ethic. Nieves is mum on plans for next year's event and whether she'd like to see the line-up in something a little more glamorous, like last year. She already knows some of the possible themes, but demurs on actual details about hemlines and fabrics, indicating instead that it'll be another celebration of unsung heroes. "I'm not allowed to say [specifically]," she said graciously, "but it's going to again be an homage to people that people don't pay attention to."
In the meantime, the models themselves seem to be just living for the moment and basking in the spotlight. For example, in one corner, Zeus is calmly showing off his smart firemen's ensemble, complete with matching mini-truck. Here with his human and manager, Miguel Rodriguez, he is especially into tonight's cause: A rescue himself, Zeus understands the importance of adoption and in turn does a lot of work with his owners to help out other strays. This is a fact that Rodriguez says actually gives him an edge when it comes to the pressures of modeling around such a large crowd. "He's always on the street meeting new people: new people, new noises, new faces," he says, "so, he's actually very nice."
In another corner, Aidan, who is dressed as an MTA worker, is enjoying his dinner without any fear of carbs or unrealistic body standards as his spokesperson, Siobhan Moore, puts the final touches on his signature red hair. A show cat and "frequent flyer," Aidan more than used to the glare of the spotlight. "He loves attention," Moore explains.
It's also not his first time at the Algonquin: Last year, he made a huge splash in his Carmen Miranda-inspired outfit and the pictures went viral, which Moore regards as a great career move. "He made an impact on his first time out. He actually likes getting dressed up." Aidan also seems to enjoy the grooming process, she insists. "He is a very happy camper...He was really good with the blow dry and everything." He also has a knack for flaunting his best assets to affectionate guests. As Moore laughingly put it, "He likes to put that butt up. Now he's showing his good side!"
Meanwhile, in the lobby, humans are milling about enjoying free-flowing drinks, sumptuous food, and searching for the evening's erstwhile hostess, Matilda III. The Algonquin's current lobby cat, she stands as number eleven in a series of resident felines that stretches back in an unbroken line to the 1920s.
Whether she's cat-atonic from too much of her eponymous cocktail in her dish or is just merely being shy is the subject of much speculation, but whatever the reason, she's allowing the party to go on without her. Sandy Robbins, who has the enviable job title of Pet Lifestyle Consultant, isn't worried, though: She describes herself as a "veteran" of these soirees and has seen it all.
"I've been coming consistently since about 2008, so I knew Matilda II," adding assuringly of this year's turnout, "This has been the best party ever."