It wasn’t until The Observer arrived at Wednesday evening’s cat fashion show and reception at the Algonquin Hotel to benefit NY Save—hosted by cat-in-residence Matilda and her handler, Alice de Almeida—that we realized there would be no catwalk.
Feeling a little foolish, we asked Ms. de Almeida whether Matilda, a 4-year-old ragdoll who is the third female cat to inhabit the lobby (or part of it anyway) of the Algonquin, enjoys dressing up.
“No!” she exclaimed, looking at us somewhat incredulously. “She doesn’t dress up. We just let the other cats dress up,” Ms. de Almeida said, showing us a rhinestone collar that she was going to attempt to get Matilda to wear for the show.
In lieu of a costume, Matilda showcased her notoriously snobby disposition and remained in her cage in a separate room from the other fashion show participants for the majority of the reception. In a second-floor hotel room, Savannahs in tuxedo shirts and studded leather jackets and sphynxes in tutus lounged on couches, while some of the younger show cats jumped on the bed.
Matilda wasn’t the only feline celebrity working the crowd of cat ladies in cocktail dresses who milled around the bed with glasses of wine, gushing and Instagramming iPhone photos. More than one owner mentioned her cat’s appearance on Animal Planet in pseudo-casual tones, and Susan Bowdin, owner of a 25-pound Savannah named Elvis (who was dressed accordingly) explained that he “has a fan club.”
“Elvis was even featured in a Japanese magazine,” Ms. Bowdin bragged, before conceding, “of course, I have no idea what it said!”
One elaborately decked Persian wore what appeared to be an especially frilly, colorful clown suit, paired with a headpiece made of fake fruit. Yet Carla Z. Reiss, the founder of Meow Wear and designer of all the cat costumes at the show, told us it was more of a flamenco dress, inspired by Carmen Miranda. “She was well known for wearing a basket of fruit on her head, and I just thought it was so ridiculous that an animal should wear something like it,” Ms. Reiss said.
Ms. Reiss, herself the owner of six cats, assured us that her cats “don’t wear costumes at home,” aside from the T-shirts her sphynxes often wear to keep warm. “The costumes are really meant for a moment or a photography opportunity. I don’t sell them to be worn all the time,” she explained. Her decadent creations, many of which are commissioned for weddings and holiday cards, typically sell for between $100 and $150, but she assured us that she isn’t “making a living off it.”
“I just charge what I think people will bear, and in this [economic] climate it’s particularly an issue,” she said.
Following the viewing of the “mew-dels,” attendees returned to the Algonquin lobby for more wine and hors d’oeuvres, and Ms. de Almeida informed us that Matilda “had to retire for the evening.” It would seem the pampered cat is better reached by email. We asked Ms. de Almeida whether she responds to the numerous emails the cat receives each day.
“No, Matilda does,” she said matter-of-factly. We must have looked skeptical, because Ms. de Almeida conceded: “Cats don’t have thumbs, so I have to hit the space bar for her.”