When I arrive at the studio where Juicy Couture is shooting what it hopes will be a highly viral holiday-themed video starring beautiful cats and fashion writer Derek Blasberg, I am greeted by art director Tara Rice. A striped cat meows incessantly from his perch on the set. He's gotten a little cranky after spending all day modeling jewelry and acting under hot stage lights.
"There's a whole other room filled with cats," Rice tells me, escorting me out of the studio and into a room next door where three more cats are waiting to be called to the set.
There, a striped orange shorthair relaxed in his roomy cage, while a white Persian named Dyna Glyde, who looked like a cloud of fluff with a tiny face, batted at a toy feather through her cage. Her neighbor Cutie Patootie, an off-white stunner, was enjoying lunch of raw bits of red meat set on a small paper plate. Various members of the production staff came in periodically to coo over how astoundingly cute the cats were.
"He's burnt out, this cat," says a member of the production staff as the handsome striped guy is brought in from the set, still meowing.
"Oh, he's exhausted?" Deborah Kenny says, tending to her amazingly docile, quiet Persians. Kenny lives in Delaware, and got up at 2:30 that morning to bathe and brush her fluffy beauties and drive them to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for the shoot. When these cats aren't modeling jewelry for fashion brands and becoming viral Internet sensations, they compete in cat shows. Dyna hadn't started yet because she wasn't quite 8 months old, the age at which cats become legal for competition, but would be hitting the show circuit soon.
Dyna is new to the entertainment world. She had recently done a shoot with Alicia Keys, who apparently is not a cat person. But the photos came out nice anyway.
Cats cast for shoots like this always come with a backup, because you never know if they'll cooperate on set. For a day of work with a few cats, a brand like Juicy might pay anywhere from around $600 to $1,200.
During lunch break, Derek Blasberg is texting in his makeup chair. This is his first shoot with cats, he says, which is a good thing because he's allergic to them. "I feel a little puffy," says Blasberg, a dog owner. He's taken so much allergy medicine that he's starting to feel "high."
Before the next scene, a production assistant tells Kenny to put Cutie Patootie in his Christmas sweater, which is extremely tiny. Most cat owners know that putting a hat, much less a super-tight sweater with sleeves and everything, on a normal cat is courting death. But professional cats don't care. Cutie Patootie just sits there as his owner pulls the sweater over his head and puts his paws through the arm holes. I've never seen a cat be so shockingly blasé about getting dressed.
On the set, Blasberg just has to hold the sweater-clad cat. The cat does not mind being held. He sits there in Blasberg's arms, not caring at all about the 20 or 30 people making viral video magic all around him.
"Look down at the cat and just, like, melt," the director instructs Blasberg. "Look down and just like, Oh my god. Look down and have that moment."
Blasberg does his lines again, finishing with a look into Cutie Patootie's eyes and saying, "Aww, look at that face." He has to do this four or five times, until the director decides the delivery is convincing enough.
The director goes to his monitor to review the footage. "It's a cute cat," he says.
Over on the set, the cats look like they're falling asleep.