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D.C. trots out pups and haute couture for benefit

By RACHEL WITKIN | April 22, 2012

I know absolutely nothing about fashion. My trips to the mall don't extend past Macy's and Forever 21, and the only fashion shows I've ever seen were on "America's Next Top Model."  I'm aware enough to know that wearing sweatpants in public is slightly unacceptable. And that's always been enough for me.

Last Saturday, I was invited to go to D.C.'s largest animal charity event, Fashion for Paws and hang out backstage. The event raised over $700,000 this year for the Washington Humane Society. To become a model, one had to raise at least $5,000, which means that the runway consisted of mostly D.C. entreprenuers and socialites. Reporter Nikki Burdine raised the most money, contributing $43,000 to the cause. There were 90 models featured in the show and about 30 dogs.

Fashion for Paws was created by Tara de Nicolas six years ago. She wanted to find a fun way to raise money for the Humane Society. Fashion for Paws has now raised a total of $2.2 million in the six years that it has existed.

I was lucky enough to attend the event through a friend of mine, Aba Kwawu. Kwawu is the President of  The Aba Agency, which is a luxury PR group in D.C. Her job was to organize all of the models and the designer clothes. Basically, she ensured that the show ran smoothly.

I showed up at the National Building Museum a bit apprehensive. I didn't know what I was going to do to help out, as I knew nothing about how the fashion world worked. After fixing my hair and watching tourists hang out in Judiciary Square, I finally walked into the National Building Museum.

The first thing that I saw was an explosion of color. Syzygy Events International had put together pink, orange, purple, yellow, blue and green decorations to beautify the runway and the massive room. The bright colors constantly made me want to look around the room, as a new part of the design caught my eye each time I looked. The colors were a perfect way to announce that fun, spring fashion had officially arrived.

When I finally stopped looking at the runway, I walked into the dressing room. It was early enough that the craziness hadn't started yet, but the entire hair and makeup team was ready to get the 90 models and the people running the show ready for the runway.

 I mostly hung out with a PR assistant for The Aba Agency, which meant that I watched her Tweet about everything that was going on for Tyson's Galleria, who donated all of the clothes for the show. This made me realize just how important publicity was for this type of event.

I was got to walk around the VIP section and the tables, all of which were insanely expensive, and watch people set them up. My favorite part was when we looked at the mock-ups of the outfits that Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising students had designed for both the dogs and the actual models that they had hired. Their outfits opened the show before the participants who had raised money walked the runway. Their designs were really impressive, especially for college students.

It was early enough that the museum was still open to the general public, which meant that tourists were there while the tables for the guests were being set up. It's so D.C. to let people randomly walk around a historical museum, even when a fashion show is about to happen.

By 5 p.m., the museum had officially closed, which meant that the mayhem was about to begin. The models were doing their best to get their hair and makeup done before the rehearsal. The stylists teased many of the womens' hair into 80's-esque updos. This was probably to help them match their canine counterparts, although I didn't really understand the hairdos until I saw them paired with the edgy Betsey Johnson outfits.

The dogs were also getting ready in the "doggie dropoff" area. I'm not really a dog person. But after this show, I was pretty impressed with these dogs, who were mostly able to cope with their sparkly outfits and having 1700 audience members watching them.

During the rehearsal, I had the very important job of telling models that they had to walk around the entire museum in their six-inch heels again to run through their walks one more time.

Soon after that, the multitudes of guests started to arrive. I was backstage for most of this, but I did walk downstairs for long enough to hear the obligatory Michaele Salahi gossip and D.C. networking.

I was also backstage for the show, which meant that I got to watch the models line up and meet up with their dogs. I even saw Marie Osmond, who adopted an adorable dog. And they let me try to take a picture for Twitter on someone's iPhone.

After the show, I realized that maybe fashion is pretty interesting. I could even see myself being all over Twitter one day, even if I still know nothing about clothes.

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