poodle extremism

Recently I read Jane and Michael Stern’s Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. This is what they had to say about poodles:

image found here

Poodles are not sissies; they aren’t even French. But it’s easy to understand how they got their reputation if you see one in full dress clip. It is a stunning sight, like topiary shrubbery but able to beg, fetch, roll over, and play dead. To gaze upon a standard poodle in a “Miami Sweetheart” cut with centered fur hearts on hips and back, pantaloon legs sculpted lathe-smooth, tassel ears, a Van Buren mustache drooping from its muzzle, a ribboned topknot, and a wagging pompon tail, parading along the boulevard in a rhinestone collar at the end of a jeweled lead, is to see an animal that has become a walking, barking work of art.

Van Buren (and more facial hair) found here

Before the idea of shearing and clipping poodles took off, they were well-respected European gun dogs, and their coats were clipped by hunters as a means of improving their performance. In fact, the most familiar fey poodle look, known as the “lion” cut, was developed to help them slog through rugged swamps. Poodles needed their thick coats for warmth in the cold water, but it was a hindrance when they swam fast, and it caught on brush; so only the hindquarters were sheared, with cuffs left around the ankles and hips to protect against rheumatism. Even the gay ribbon tied around the topknot had a purpose: Each hunter marked his dogs’ heads with his own colors, allowing groups of hunters to tell their dogs apart.

lion cut (and more) found here

In the same spirit of making cute things cuter, the poodle’s ordinary colors (a wide range, including blue, gray, silver, brown, cafe-au-lait, apricot, and cream) were supplemented by vegetable dyes that could turn them more shades than nature ever knew. The Vita coat company made “Marron” to make beige poodles a lovely chestnut brown and “Silver Sheen” to cause  silver-coated poodles to sparkle. But the serious poodle colorist started with a white-coated dog. “Women like to make them the same shade or a contrasting shade, to go with their wardrobes,” observed “Miss Cameo” (Kay Waldschmidt), the great poodle stylist of the fifties, who worked in St. Louis and Tucson. Miss Cameo also advised coloring poodles for Easter or Christmas, suggesting pink, orchid, and green as especially becoming.

images found here

Nearly every glamorous movie star had one, or at least got herself photographed with one: Joan Crawford had a toy poodle; Jayne Mansfield  had a couple of standard poodles that she regularly dyed pink to match her home. Doris Day played an American chorus girl who has to pass for a diplomat in a musical called April in Paris. To promote the film and signify the pretense of the masquerade, she appeared on the cover of Collier’s holding a sextet of clipped and dyed poodles: two pink, two aqua, one green, and one gold.

Joan and friend found here

Teenage girls wore stylish poodle skirts decorated with felt appliqued French poodles wearing rhinestone collars; ladies bought handbags with embroidered poodles on the side and decorated their powder rooms with wallpaper that had pictures of poodles strolling down the Champs-Elysees. Poodles were now commonly known as French poodles, and vast numbers of them got named Fifi, Gigi, and Pierre

image found here

As they grew in popularity, that aspect of them that was considered the most French, their ridiculous haircuts, was even more exaggerated. Miss Cameo’s Poodle Clipping Book in 1962 featured step-by-step instructions and such chapters as “Basic Round Head Styles,” and “Mustaches.” In a revealing chapter called “Why Your Poodle Should Be Well Groomed,” the answers to the rhetorical question include:

1} An ungroomed poodle doesn’t look like a poodle at all!

2} It will bring you prestige in many ways.

3} When you go on vacations or trips, you will be able to take him with you, because most motels and hotels do not object to a clean, well-groomed poodle, even though they have a “NO DOGS ALLOWED” sign posted.

4} He is a thing of beauty and should be kept that way.

In the instructional section of The Poodle Clipping Book” Miss Cameo takes the reader from basic “Puppy Trim,” “English Saddle,” and “Continental Clip” to such stupendous styles as the “Bell Bottom Banded Dutch” cut (with a rounded head like a Cossack’s hat), the “Scottsdale Exquisite” (puffs on legs and hocks, tasseled ears, pointed head), and the “Triple Puff Sweetheart” (heart-shaped puffs on jacket and hips, double puffs on back legs, single puffs on front legs). In her preface to her magnum opus, Miss Cameo says she knows that publication of the Poodle Clipping Book will permit other professional poodle stylists to pirate her work. But she is not disturbed. She concludes her remarks, “As long as poodles look better, I will have my reward.”

image found here

Published in: on March 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm  Comments (53)  
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