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Project Shar-Pei

When it comes to television viewing, I must admit to a few indulgences.

The Weather Channel’s “Storm Stories” and “Full Force Nature” always get my attention. I enjoy watching the History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers” and the Smithsonian Channel’s “Aerial America” too. I find these shows interesting, I think, because of their emphasis on two of my favorite subjects: history and the natural world.

Although they have nothing to do with dogs, I usually manage to draw connections between these shows and my affection for man’s best friend. Whenever I tune in to one of these programs, I find myself thinking about dogs being rescued from hurricanes, or canines working in the frozen North or the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

I don’t watch the local news (too much violence) but, inexplicably, I sometimes find myself tuning in to the Military Channel. Maybe it’s because of the occasional program about war dogs and the contributions they’ve made for the cause of freedom. (Or maybe I simply enjoy seeing things blow up.)

Despite my seeming preference for things meteorological and military, the show that brings me the greatest amount of viewing satisfaction – and one of the reasons I got cable TV in the first place – is Lifetime’s “Project Runway.” Yes, that “Project Runway.”

“Project Runway” has taught me that high fashion is a lot like a Chinese Shar-Pei: It only seems outlandish to the uninitiated. Photo © Vortexdigital/Dreamstime.

The top-rated reality show, hosted by ageless supermodel Heidi Klum, has been a not-so-secret pleasure of mine for the past 10 years. Ever since the first season on Bravo TV, when contestant Wendy Pepper demonstrated fashion’s ruthless side with all the charm of Cruella de Vil on a bad hair day, I’ve been tuning in to watch as fashion designers buy a few yards of fabric and are instructed to “make it work.”

Truth be told, I know little to nothing about fashion. My idea of dressing up is putting on a clean pair of khakis and a sports jacket. I sincerely hate shopping, and whenever I’m forced to go into a store to purchase something new for myself, I tend to walk out with clothing that looks exactly like what’s already hanging in my closet.

When it comes to knowing what’s fashionable, I simply don’t get it. But “Project Runway” has taught me to appreciate fashion that I don’t understand. When the show’s designers are given a challenge to create a garment with very specific parameters, the results often seem ridiculous only until a panel of expert judges critiques the work. Then it all suddenly makes sense.

I’ve learned from the show that “making it work,” or creating something beautiful with a purpose, has more in common with breeding purebred dogs than one might think.

Fashion design requires technical mastery and creative vision, just as breeding purebred dogs is both a scientific endeavor and an art form. Instead of fabric and thread, breeders work with flesh and pedigrees to bring to life the ideals set forth by the breed standards.

Designers take into consideration the function of the garments they create and the location of every seam and stitch, just as dog breeders consider the original purpose of their animals and each detail of their make and shape. Designers work with color, texture and silhouette, just as breeders do.

Both designers and breeders also spend enormous sums of time, energy and money perfecting their lines, and both measure their efforts by presenting their work for approval. The 11 minutes a fashion designer spends presenting a new collection to the critics is not unlike the two and a half minutes a breeder spends in the ring with his or her dog and a licensed judge. Critics and judges alike can be notoriously unpredictable, and never mind trying to create something that pleases the general public.

Although some fashion, like certain dog breeds, is easy for both novice and expert to appreciate, other styles require more advanced levels of continuing education to fully comprehend. A green wedding dress is not for every bride, just as a Neapolitan Mastiff is not the dog for every family.

A good pair of jeans might be described as fashion’s Beagle, comfortable and familiar, and a favorite sweater is like an Old English Sheepdog, warm and a little disheveled. The model in a feathered tube skirt, however, is more reminiscent of a Borzoi, and her clunky clogs have all the grace of a Bulldog on a bender. Her unorthodox ensemble is most likely to be appreciated by seasoned fashionistas, just as the unmistakably elegant sighthound and the short-faced Bully are only truly understood by connoisseurs of those breeds.

The show that made Tim Gunn a household name demonstrates, to me, at least, that sending an avant-garde dress down the runway is a lot like taking a Chinese Shar-Pei into the Bred-by ring. After all, only a determined designer can make a dress from a bag of birdseed, and only a dedicated fancier will appreciate the beauty in the baggy trousers worn by a Chinese Shar Pei.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.