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Behind the scenes of the Westminster Dog Show (it’s a lot more like fashion week than you’d think)

Just with more camp. And more fur.

My 8-year-old self is freaking out right now.

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When I was 8 years old, I got a massive, art book-sized dog encyclopedia that had a page for every dog breed registered with the American Kennel Club from Affenpinscher to Yorkshire Terrier. Which, before the age of YouTube videos and Instagram, I would spend my free time flipping through. I know. It was a different time. And while I gained an encyclopedic knowledge of dogs and their varying traits, one thing I did not ever get to do was go to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, a competition where judges evaluate individual purebred dogs for their conformity to the breed standard.

[Photo: Dolly Faibyshev/courtesy Chronicle Books]
A new book, Best in Show by Dolly Faibyshev and published by Chronicle Chroma 2020, is just as good. Maybe even better, because photographer Faibyshev approaches the subjects of the book—the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and the American Kennel Club National Championship—with the same kinetic, fly-on-the-wall energy as street photographer Bill Cunningham was known for at New York Fashion Week.

With a strong flash, vibrant color, and high shine, Faibyshev’s photographs take on the feeling of a roving paparazzo, capturing less-often-seen candid moments of dogs and their owners in action across the event, from backstage primping, teeth cleaning, and ear scratching to the high-drama action of showtime and judging in the main ring.

[Photo: Dolly Faibyshev/courtesy Chronicle Books]

Faibyshev captures the particular idiosyncrasies and human dramas of the dog owners, too—snapping a woman mid-walk in a faux-fur leopard print coat, leopard print pants, and oversize pug T-shirt; a woman coming in from the snow carrying two fluffy Pomeranians under her arm like so many baguettes; and a seated audience in a mix of kitschy sweaters, hoodies, and patterned blazers looking on with bated breath. Flash of the camera, and flash—she’s gone.

The similarity in approach to say, a fashion week party, could also be because Faibyshev has actually shot major events such as New York Fashion Week and Dollypalooza. By documenting dog show-goers in their less-official moments, Faibyshev captures that uniquely eccentric culture of the event, woven together by the characters that make it up, and the social interactions they have with each other. The resulting book of photographs is definitely more sensational than an encyclopedia. You might say it’s like a fever dream of fur. But with more camp, more character, and a lot more fun.

You can purchase Best in Show starting February 4.

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About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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