It’s a misty fall afternoon in Central Park, and Bodhi, a handsome, slightly-big-for-his-breed Shiba Inu, is on edge. He’s yanking around one of his two humans, Yena Kim–a petite, 27-year-old fashion designer who used to work for Ralph Lauren–bending her to his will, tensing his leash as he darts after squirrels, birds, or whatever fast-moving creature happens to enter his canine view. At one point, at the base of a jagged rock outcropping, he spins in a circle, lifts one of his hind legs, and begins to relieve himself. A serene look creeps up his face, and his eyes enter a perma-squint. Suddenly, Bodhi is chill.
“He kind of likes to bless the areas where he shoots,” says Kim.
Named after Patrick Swayze’s wave-riding antihero in the iconic ’80s surfer bromance Point Break, you might not recognize Bodhi by his birth name. But once you layer on a gingham shirt and perhaps a tweed blazer, you might recognize the 5-year-old sheeb as his absurdly famous alter ego, Menswear Dog. Part unlikely fashion icon, part iconoclast conceived to poke fun at the manicured self-seriousness of Fashion Tumblr, Menswear Dog has become big business in his own right for Kim and her boyfriend David Fung.
“When we first dressed him up for fun [in spring 2013], he started posing for us, and doing like Blue Steel and Magnum,” says Fung, 29, a graphic designer naming modeling poses from Zoolander. “We originally posted his photo to Facebook as a gag.”
That gag, of course, quickly snowballed into something much bigger, eventually affording both of them the luxury of quitting their full-time jobs in April 2013. (The pair thank Shiba puppy cams for popularizing the breed.) Self-described “crazy dog people,” Fung and Kim have carved out a formidable niche for Menswear Dog among aesthetes, and not just online. There’s Instagram (148k followers), Facebook (91k likes), and Tumblr (224k followers), sure. But since going all-in on Menswear Dog, Inc., the family of three have shot campaigns for (in no particular order): Coach (the first brand to reach out to them), Victorinox Swiss Army, Ted Baker, American Apparel, Brooks Brothers, Salvatore Ferragamo, ASOS, Hudson Shoes, Revlon, Todd Snyder, The Tie Bar, Polyvore, Purina (which they have a monthly contract with), Korean department store Comodo Square (for whom Menswear Dog is their unofficial mascot), and many, many more.
This, of course, does not include the dozens of other clothing brands Bodhi’s parents have had to decline.
Then, there’s the expanding list of publications Bodhi’s whiskers continue to grace, including GQ, Nylon, Time, Esquire, Refinery 29, and, now, Fast Company. Menswear Dog is also available for bookings, having made appearances at a handful of New York Fashion Week parties. In February, he launched his own Capsule Collection for Menswear Daily. And also in the works is an official Menswear Dog book, which, if all goes as planned, will be published next November.
At first it was weird. Negotiating contracts for an animal you own is not something that is easily Googleable. But, with trial and error, the couple were able to finesse their way into the swing of things. “We don’t really see it as a business, because we’re not really businesspeople,” shrugs Kim, as she swaddles Bodhi in a vintage plaid shirt, an olive green military jacket, and scratched-up Ray-Ban aviators. “We just sort of go with the flow. We’re more excited about trying different projects, and just trying different things with different brands.”
Between the photo contracts, guest appearances, and sponsored posts on Tumblr and Instagram, a good month for Menswear Dog earns the couple somewhere in the ballpark of $15,000. When I asked what a bad month looks like, Fung and Kim say they haven’t seen less than $10,000 in “quite some time.”
Indeed, creative agency is central to the couple’s process. Last year, a few weeks after Menswear Dog started going viral, they were approached by “meme agent” Ben Lashes, who represents Internet micro-celebrities like Grumpy Cat and Scumbag Steve, helping them profit off their virality. “He reached out to us early on, but he wanted to take 20%,” says Kim. “It meant he would take care of the creative aspects, which we weren’t ready to give up.”
As for actually shooting Bodhi? The whole process I was privy to certainly seemed seamless–easier, maybe, than many human group photo sessions. As soon as Bodhi saw his outfit being pulled out of his black leather duffle bag–his closet mostly leans American heritage, the hand-me-downs of which go to his dad (“We have the same neck size,” jokes Fung)–he stops fidgeting around. It’s time for business. Little hand says it’s time to rock and roll.
Dressing Bodhi in his first of two outfits, fluffing out his shoulders to a more human width (this part is key), positioning him on top of a rocky perch, and snapping a few shots on a DSLR–the whole process takes place in less than five minutes. Menswear Dog: The consummate modeling professional.
And yet, outside of Bodhi’s miraculous ability to sit still and gaze wistfully away from a camera at just the right angle, the most remarkable thing about Menswear Dog is just how much he is a dog. He likes peanut butter. And bacon. He’s good with kids, and plays nice with other animals. He insists on sleeping at the foot of their bed. “He’s just a regular dog. Hangs out. Sleeps a lot,” says Kim. “He’ll do whatever he wants.” Although he dresses the part, he’s not really a gentleman. Sometimes, Bodhi’s laid-back Swayzian attitude clashes with clients in ways that can be both hilarious and mortifying.
“We went to Stetson’s New York headquarters, and they had John B. Stetson’s vintage rug on the floor…” says Kim. “It was this really beautiful old oriental rug,” Fung adds, “and as soon as we go in, he starts drizzling. I was like, ‘This is the most unprofessional thing ever.’” To Bodhi, though, it was no big deal. “He’s always been kind of a dick,” laughs Fung.
At one point during the shoot, with Bodhi in full Menswear Dog-mode on an elevated park bench, a group of women loop around to take pictures with their phones. They don’t seem to know who “Menswear Dog” is, but the absurdity of the whole situation–an animal wearing people clothes, a cluster of humans doting after him–is too adorable an opportunity to pass up. When one woman asks to take a photo with Bodhi, the Shiba poses by her side dutifully, at least for the first few snaps, like it were standard operating procedure. Then, when the snaps and and camera shutters start slowing down, totally unprompted, Bodhi turns and deftly gives her a kiss, the photo evidence of which is above. Like a well-trained politician or a Hollywood A-lister, this is a dog that knows how to charm a room.
Bodhi’s parents know they have a good thing going. But more than anything else, they seem to have nothing but warmth and love for the pup, who they bought on a whim from an Upper East Side pet store five years ago when they were both “broke designers” living in Harlem–quirks and mischief and penchant for peeing at inopportune times and all. They seem to know that having the financial cushion of a (mildly) famous pet certainly won’t last. Yet they felt they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try something weird and new; something fun, creative, and perfectly zeitgeist-y. Even though they freelance other non-Menswear Dog-related projects from time to time, in their estimation, the gap in their résumés is more than worth it.
“When I left my job, everyone in my immediate office knew [what was going on], but I just told HR I was starting a company,” says Kim. “I didn’t want to be like, ‘I’m leaving you guys to dress up my dog.’”