- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Washington social scene since 2007 has been raining cats and dogs with an event that blends felines, Fidos and families for the Washington Humane Society’s fashion-show fundraiser, Fashion for Paws.

When relationships blogger Andrea Rodgers happened upon a forlorn kitten behind a grocery store in Glover Park, she decided to dig in to do more for her cat - aptly named Lucky - and others in need of protection.

“I was familiar with [the Washington Humane Society’s] mission and the work they were doing. I thought about how I’ve raised a lot of money for various charities in town and felt compelled to lend my talents and time to the Washington Humane Society,” Ms. Rodgers says.

On March 28, the third annual Fashion for Paws will bark back at the Italian Embassy as models ranging from local celebrities to everyday animal lovers who each raised at least $3,000 sashay down the runway in spring fashions provided by Tysons Galleria - with some four-legged friends as their best accessories.

Tara de Nicolas, the marketing director of the Washington Humane Society, who worked alongside Ms. Rodgers to bring the event to fruition, expects 1,000 people to attend the show and says the event easily will outpace last year’s record of $200,000 despite the economic climate.

Ms. de Nicolas explains that the money generated by the event through ticket sales and the funds raised by models has practical applications, as many of the animals brought to the Humane Society have been abused and may require costly surgery.

The Humane Society also feeds, spays or neuters, and rehabilitates animals at the two Humane Society shelters in the District in addition to its animal advocacy and education work.

Ms. de Nicolas says Fashion for Paws has become a standard-bearer for “out-of-the-box” charity fundraising because it differs from the galas and direct-mail campaigns used by many philanthropies.

“We needed something different, something to spice it up and something that would capture people’s attention,” says Ms. de Nicolas, who has rescued stray animals since childhood and modeled Fashion for Paws after a similar local event, Fashion Fights Poverty.

When Ms. Rodgers and Ms. de Nicolas first developed the idea, they relied on their voluminous lists of contacts from Washington social and charitable circles. The common denominator among their contacts was an interest in fashion, especially in the spring, when the ladies-who-lunch set looks to clean out winter wardrobes.

One of the contacts Ms. de Nicolas turned to was Lyndsey Higgins, marketing manager for Tysons Galleria.

“Our shoppers are very fashion-savvy, chic and philanthropic. This allows us the opportunity to show our shoppers and the community that not only are we the place to find the best names in fashion, but that we are also a good community partner,” she says.

Although the event is unabashedly glamorous, this year featuring actor Val Kilmer and local A-listers such as NBC’s Luke Russert and WJLA’s Pamela Brown, Ms. de Nicolas says the Humane Society is very much grounded in the community and brings together families from all walks of life.

“Even if you are not a dog or cat person, you can see how pets help families and how they teach children an appreciation for animals,” she says.

Jan Cousteau, daughter-in-law of the late ocean icon Jacques Cousteau, has served as an adviser to Fashion for Paws from the beginning and says animals are integral to building strong families.

“I think that people who do not have animals in the household for their children are making a tremendous mistake,” she says.

Mrs. Cousteau, who raised two children on her own after her adventurer husband, Philippe Cousteau Sr., died in a plane crash in 1979, also points out that pets can help single mothers and disadvantaged children by “enlarging their families with warmth.”

Mrs. Cousteau, her son Philippe Jr. and 60 other models are getting runway-ready with Washington stylist Aba Kwawu.

Ms. Kwawu explains that she draws on the models’ interests and personal style as they make their selections together. For Mr. Cousteau, Ms. Kwawu picked out True Religion jeans, a Diesel T-shirt, bomber jacket and aviator sunglasses to create a “Steve McQueen look because he’s young and travels constantly.”

For Mrs. Cousteau, the stylist selected a “black-and-white ensemble with an Armani dress under a jacket.”

Ms. Kwawu says certain stores are bringing out the competitive streak in some of the female models.

“The girls are all fighting over the stuff from Betsey Johnson and Nicole Miller,” she says with a laugh.

To add a little frosting to the runway, Cartier SA and David Yurman Inc. will be lending decadent jewels for the event, not to mention their burly security guards to keep an eye on the ice.

The four-legged guests of honor will be decked out in doggy duds created by Barkley Square, a local pet boutique.

At the end of the day - the Fashion for Paws after-parties won’t end until the wee hours - models such as real estate agent Fletcher Gill, who already has reached his fundraising goal through a series of small low-dollar parties, says it’s all about remembering man’s best friend, not the clothes.

“Now I just need to adopt one of those awesome little Labrador puppies,” he says.

General-admission tickets to Fashion for Paws can be purchased for $75 at www.wash humane.org

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