Thanks to Hector Browne, I enjoyed modest success during Paris Fashion Week as a street-style star. In 30 years of covering shows this has never happened before — photographers rushing up to snap my picture as I trudged up the steps of the Grand Palais, some even murmuring, “So cute!”
Of course, I knew the paps weren’t interested in me; they were interested in my style surrogate, a furry, 18-inch-long bag that bore an uncanny resemblance to a wirehaired dachshund, in every way — same rough coat, short legs, adorable expression of canine sufferance — except in one obvious detail. My little guy came with handles.
I got the idea to bring Hector to Paris after seeing him in Thom Browne’s show in New York. Thom owns the real Hector, on whom a litter of wiener-dog bags (is that nice to say?) was modeled. Since I’m not a bag person — a Vuitton wallet suffices most days — I viewed fake Hector more as a sidekick than as an accessory. And I was curious to see how people would react to a childlike object that, though partially stuffed, was not a toy. (A zipper runs from his collar to his tail, and inside there’s room for your things.) I knew I could never affect the right Parisian élan — like the young woman who passed me on a scooter with a small (and real) whippet poised on the floorboard between her bright-red patent-leather stiletto boots — but I enjoyed the idea of taking him around with me, almost as if I were concocting a little a story: “Hector in Paris.”
Almost nothing went as I’d expected. For one thing, taking Hector places required coordination — mainly of my look. After his first big show — Maison Margiela at the Grand Palais — he apparently went viral, so as his handler I had to pay closer attention than usual to my outfit, hair, and sunglasses. Also, Hector produced such an array of reactions, from joy and amusement to mild horror, that I found myself laughing like an idiot. Actually, someone on Twitter said I looked like I’d never had my picture taken, and that was pretty much true.
I loved Hector, dearly, but he was making me feel a little nerdish and self-conscious; and he was work.
“Where’s Hector?” someone asked the next day. “Did you bring him? He’s a star on Instagram.” Hector, Hector, Hector.
“It’s raining,” I answered. Or, lying, I said, “He’s asleep.”
At the Balenciaga show, last Sunday, I tucked Hector under my arm, like a real dog, and went backstage to get a quote from the new designer, Demna Gvasalia. We waded through a throng of people to reach Demna, and you know what he said?
Hector met Karl, Phoebe, Raf. In the Chanel studio, Amanda Harlech and Charlotte Stockdale made a terrific fuss over him, talking in funny voices; and I wondered if we might see a furry Choupette bag at Chanel soon (Choupette, of course, is Karl’s cat, who this season inspired some diamante pins). At Givenchy, an Italian journalist asked if she could take Hector’s picture, and then she shared a photo of her real dog.
I loved the reaction of regular Parisians on the street, especially children and young men. Women in their 20s or early 30s, I found, often looked at Hector quite critically (or did they want a Hector of their own?). But the men saw the charm and silliness in him. “Le chien est très mignon!” Or, “très jolie!” I would smile and laugh along. Sometimes people said things I didn’t understand, that were beyond my French, and I would just answer: “Merci!”
But my favorite reaction was from a young female photographer outside the Céline show, at the Tennis Club de Paris. Hector and I had just come from lunch at a nearby café (you can probably see it on Instagram), and she asked, “Where did you buy him?” When I started to say that he was a show dog, a loaner, she said, “Did you make him?” As ghoulish as it sounds, several people seemed to think that Hector was the product of taxidermy rather than fashion.
But what’s the difference? He warmed people’s hearts. He’s sitting under the desk in the hotel as I write this.
“It’s real,” the editor Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, a great dog lover, said before the start of the Chanel show. She stroked Hector’s soft brown head. “C’est genie. It’s not like it’s fake. It’s real.”