All photos by Amy Lombard
Everyone knows most activists are poor and ugly, so I am shocked to see dozens of animal activists at Victor D'souza's spring fashion show.
I come to Central Park to watch one specific model: Breaking Amish's Kate Stoltz. Like Lauren Conrad and other reality stars before her, the "bishop's daughter" sees television as a side job and wants America to recognise her as a clothing designer and model. Stoltz is walking in D'souza's two shows this week: a standard runway show and a pre-show where models wore his looks in horse carriages in Central Park to the ire of the animal rights groups NYCLASS and members of PETA.
Throughout the day, Stoltz spends hours at a ballroom applying makeup and trying on clothes and her wig, but when I arrive at Central Park, I only see dozens of activists screaming at middle-age men driving horse carriages. "VICTOR D'SOUZA! ANIMAL ABUSER!" they scream as street performers dance to Papa Roach-like music.
Spotting my photographer, Amy, shooting photos, a hot blonde guy in a suit approaches me. He asks if we're press. I nod, shocked to see a sexually attractive animal activist.
"Are you with… the animal activists?" I ask him.
"No," he says.
He introduces himself as Alex Moore, the communications director for the Teamsters Joint Council 16, which represents the horse-carriage drivers. He tells us that 64 percent of New Yorkers support the carriage drivers and hands us a packet including statistics and some of the horses' worker benefits: a minimum of five weeks of vacation, two to four veterinary exams, and a stall that's a minimum of 60 square feet.
Before I can finish my conversation with the sexy Teamster, animal activists start running to a new area. Like stalkers or poachers hunting elephants, they chase after the carriages as they turn the corner and then stop where the models will board their rides.
Stoltz tells me the activists lack proper knowledge about animals. As an Amish girl, she spent years taking care of her family's horses and knows her shit about ponies. "I support [animal rights], but they were uneducated about what they're shouting out," she says. "There's a difference between having a horse work and abusing a horse."
Although I typically wouldn't trust a model's opinion about humanitarian issues, Stoltz makes great points. Throughout the evening, the activists repeatedly contradict their statements. One elderly activist with very bad botox criticises the street performers for blasting metal music because they could scare the horses, although the activists' screams are much louder than the music.
Another activist brought her daughter to the event and then flips out when a middle-aged redhead starts recording the daughter. The mother places a sign over her daughter's face. I tell the mother she brought her daughter to a public rally and anyone can photograph her daughter. The redhead then puts her camcorder in my face and starts asking me who I'm with.
"VICE," I tell her. "I'm here to write about the event. Who are you with?"
She admits she doesn't belong to the media – she's the family member of a carriage driver who has come to counter-protest the activists.
Allie Feldman – the executive director of NYCLASS, the organisation that organised the animal rights activists' protest – finds these family member's actions inappropriate. She complains to me about how the family members "harass" the activists, although she makes a living encouraging people to scream at the carriage drivers.
"It doesn't give them the right to get in our faces," she says.
I admit to Feldman my bias: My parents own pet stores, and during high school, animal activists tried to shut down my parents' pet stores. I can understand why the redhead is angry, since Feldman and her cohorts are trying to rob the carriage drivers of their livelihood, but she insists she's not robbing anyone of their income because her organisation has proposed an alternative: a "three-year phase-out of horse carriages, replacing them with the 21st Century "Horseless eCarriage" for current drivers."
During our conversation, Feldman claims the protesters lack affiliations with crazier animal rights groups as a blonde woman in heels hold a PETA sign behind her.
When three models arrive at the carriages, the activists lose it. They surround the models, prompting photographers to start flashing their cameras. "The fashion world needs to show some compassion!" an activist screams as the models hold signs that say "SAVE OUR HORSES."
Since she's as attention hungry as the activists, the redhead relative of a carriage driver jumps in front of the camera men and then screams, "EMPOWERMENT!"
A few minutes into this chaos, a man in a suit grabs one model by the arm and they begin walking around the park. The activists storm after them as they circle around the park.
"It's like a parade," I say at one point.
"Unfortunately a parade that's not a celebration," an activist says to me.
Exhausted, I stop to speak to three elderly activists from Queens. One tells me she's mostly concerned the horses will "spook" and start a stampeding and stomping on people. After I finish speaking to her, her elderly friends ask who I am.
"The man from VICE," she says.
"What's that?" one old lady asks.
"It's a popular youth magazine!"
"I'm too old for [VICE]," one old lady says.
A few minutes later, Stoltz and the other models finally arrive. They wear matching blonde wigs, and unless you Stoltz is here, you can't tell she's a reality star. She's the fiercest model of the group and looks stoic as she pets a horse. When the activists scream at her, she looks through them, unimpressed.
As the shouts continue, two models step into each carriage and then the carts start driving into the park, cop cars cruising behind them.
"Trash. Trash. Trash," one activists whispers as the models pass her.
When Stoltz's carriage drives by the activists, she just smiles.
Some activists struggle to keep up with the horses' speed, but when a cameraman walks by, one activist stops her march and jumps in front of the camera for her closeup.
"ANIMAL ABUSE!" she shouts.
The cameraman laughs at her.
Another activist turns to homophobia to prove his points about the horses. As an androgynous model passes him, he yells, "Hey, man in the dress!" because, you know, nothing makes your point better than screaming homophobic thoughts in the middle of Central Park.
After the models finish riding in their carriages, they head to a janky ballroom in midtown for the runway show. Backstage in a room that smells like a motel, the models rush to prepare. As publicists and cameramen rush in and out of the room, Stoltz remains calm, like an Amish girl playing dressup on a farm. Although she broke her Amish roots years ago, she still seems innocent and unlike Americans who grew up in the model world.
The same can't be same for the other fashion people attending the show. An Asian woman in an elaborate dress stops when she sees Amy's camera. "That is heavy duty equipment," she says before she starts posing for photos.
During the runway show, other attendees keep their chins raised high as the models wear blonde wigs and affordable-looking clothes that remind me of Nickelodeon characters if Nickelodeon characters were chic. Stoltz looks forward with a smize Tyra Banks would love.
After the show, she walks backstage smiling. Amy sits on a couch with her camera, but Stoltz doesn't pounce toward Amy the way the activists did.
For once, a reality starlet wants the least attention.
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