Alyssa Vingan Klein is the editor in chief of Fashionista, one of the top sources for fashion industry news and analyses. The Virginia Beach native went to college in New Orleans before moving to New York City to pursue—and achieve—her dream of becoming a fashion editor (her first internship was at Fashionista, too). She and her husband, Jon, recently adopted their Havanese puppy and daughter, Leche.
Did you grow up with any pets?
The first animal I ever wanted was a cockatoo, but my parents weren’t down to get me a giant bird, so they got me a cockatiel. Around the time when I was middle school, my brother and I were like, “He’s not big enough to cuddle. We want a dog.”
So, we did research. We wanted a hypoallergenic dog, not too big. We landed on the breed Coton de Tuléar. And she was our family dog. We loved her to death. We treated her like a human. She ate table food. So, we had her until I was probably 21 when she passed away, but we almost immediately got another dog. We got a Maltese. Her name’s Lily. Lily is the sweetest, loveliest, most cuddly little thing. So, I’ve had dogs since pretty early in life, and they just vastly made our lives better. My mom is already talking about getting another dog so Lily could have a sibling.
So, at what point did you decide that you were ready to get a dog on your own as an adult? Did you reach a milestone in your career?
I had cancer when I was 21, so senior year, I moved home, finished school from there, and hung out with Zoe, my first dog, all the time. Then Zoe passed away, and it was a hard time, but then we hit this milestone after the treatment was working and we wanted another dog. We thought it would be a good time. So, we drove up to get Lily and it just so happened the timing worked out that I got offered a job in New York just months after Lily came into our lives. And ever since then I just missed her so much.
Then, I was hustling in my career, working around the clock, ended up getting married, all of these things, then finally I felt settled, probably two or three years ago, and I said, “I really want a dog.” it just took a while to convince my husband, Jon, but once we started doing research and found the Havanese breed, which sounded great for apartment living. It’s hard to commit to getting a dog when you live in such a small space because you feel like you won’t be able to give him or her enough exercise and the Havanese just sounded perfect, so we took the plunge. But, yes, it did take a lot of persuasion and a lot of PowerPoints and a lot of literature, like “This will be fine. I promise. She’s not going to hate us because she doesn’t have a field to run in.”
“I had cancer when I was 21, so senior year, I moved home, finished school from there, and hung out with Zoe, my first dog, all the time.”
Was your husband a dog person? What took convincing?
He grew up with dogs too, but he grew up with a beagle named Maddie and then also a mutt who was disabled. He had one eye. His name was Jack.
But he also grew up in Florida on acres of land, so they would just let Maddie and Jack run around and he equated that with how a dog should live. So, that was kind of the difference in our viewpoint because my dogs were always indoor dogs. Lily, the Maltese, if we left her outside, she could get eaten in Virginia by a hawk or something. So, we never really let them play on their own outside, and his family did the opposite with their dogs. His beagle would go run off and chase things for hours, but they always knew she would come back. So, I think there was just that kind of difference in upbringing and difference in breeds, but he loves Leche so much and he keeps saying, “I’m really sorry that we didn’t get her sooner.”
How did you decide on Leche being the one?
I finally started saying, “Okay, I’m putting my foot down. We’re getting a dog.” For my job, I have to be really insanely busy from January through March for awards season and fashion month, and then my husband works with his family’s Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans.
So, Mardi Gras is in February into March a little bit, so we knew we had to wait until we were both home and recovered from that. So, around Hanukkah, I started looking for litters that would be due around that time. When the breeder sent the pictures of the litter, I saw Leche and I was like, “She’s mine. This is it. I love her.” And we named her right away so that she would know her name by the time she got here.
Being an online journalist and fashion editor—combined!—means your work schedule is really busy and erratic. And I’m sure you’re traveling for work a lot too. Has it all changed due to Leche?
Part of the reason I felt so ready and so adamant about getting a dog at this point in my life is that I was traveling probably every other month, and I wanted to cut back on that. It’s harder to bounce back from that now. I do travel for Fashion Month, so I usually go to Paris twice a year. Sometimes I’ll go to Milan, but I’m very lucky in that because I work digitally, I can work from home as needed. Every morning, I’m home with Leche. Same with my husband, Jon. We have a morning together.
I love that.
Then, in the afternoon, I’ll bring her to the office with me because we have a dog-friendly office, or I will go and then Jon will stay and work from home because he works for himself. We have a very flexible lifestyle which allows for having her, but she is still so young that we are afraid to leave her for extended stretches, but I think eventually we’re going to have her to both of us not being around all the time. Part of the reason I wanted a smaller dog was because I can put her in a little bag, bring her to work, and it’s a very welcome break because our job at Fashionista is very fast paced, very stressful, very around-the-clock, so having her there, it just raises the morale on days when we’ve been working for 20 days straight and we all want to collapse. Just having a dog there is really special.
“When I come home from work and she sees me and she runs to me, I could cry every time. She filled this hole in my heart that I didn’t really know was there.”
Can you describe the daily whirlwind life of a digital editor for us?
I usually wake up around 7:30am and start immediately scrolling Twitter, reading all of the news, business publications, fashion publications, looking for news that broke. I also check my email. I’m online in earnest on Slack, on email, answering people by 8:30am. I’m an editor, so I assign out new pieces to the writers on staff. I’m keeping an eye out constantly for breaking news, looking for trends. We now turn to Instagram for a lot of story ideas. I work with a lot of freelancers. Then, once in a while, we’ll have PR showroom visits to see new fashion collections or meet designers, and after work, there’s usually some sort of event or talk or screening or party.
Fashion month is a whole different beat—constantly going to shows, presentations, trying to parse out trends and news from that. Every day is different, but I would say from 8:30am to 5:30pm, I’m glued to my computer, and then the rest of the afternoon I can do my own thing.
Since Leche is such a baby, do you think of her as your baby? Do you talk to her like she’s your baby?
I definitely talk to her like she’s my baby. My voice definitely goes up several octaves. I don’t have very many nicknames for her yet. We call her Lechita. We do the baby talk with her—but if you look at her face, it’s almost impossible not to! She’s a little, tiny baby.
I do call her my child because I do not have a human baby, but Leche is a lot of work and I knew that going into it, but as much as I am on my hands and knees cleaning up after her, it’s very hard to get mad or frustrated with her just because I love her so much and she brings me so much joy. When I come home from work and she sees me and she runs to me, I could cry every time. She filled this hole in my heart that I didn’t really know was there. So, yes, in jest, I call her my child. I don’t think I treat her like a human. I don’t give her table food. She’s my little baby. I would do anything for her.
We got to witness Leche’s mischief a bit while we were photographing her. When has she been most naughty so far?
We realized that she’s very smart. She knows what we’re asking of her and she knows what she’s supposed to do and what she’s not supposed to do, but because she has also realized she has us wrapped around her finger, she has become manipulative. So, she will use this high-pitched squeal that you would think would come if she had injured herself, but she does that when she just wants attention or she wants us to do the things that she wants us to do. And we have started to become aware that she is just trying to get us to do things her way instead of the correct way. She is a master manipulator. And we’re trying to snap her out of it, but if she makes a high-pitched squeal and she’s on the floor around nothing, we know nothing’s hurting her. She just likes to be on the couch with us or she wants to have us throw a toy. She won’t just pick up the toy and bring it to us. She’ll make it sound like she’s in terrible pain. It’s awful, but at least we know and we’re not running her to the vet constantly.
I’m impressed that you realized that right away—it helps to have had dogs before. I love that story that your senior editor, Maria, wrote about dog fashion. Have you gone crazy about dog fashion yet?
I have not yet because I know she will grow out of, but I have been in a few stores lately that had some very “me” things. This store, Wagwear, has tie-dye t-shirts for dogs and I have tie-dye t-shirts, and I was like, “Leche and I can match!” I know that the dog clothing industry, much like the kids clothing industry, stems from Instagram. You want to be able to take these really cute photos of you matching your kid or matching your dog and also showing you have the same tastes. So, I will not say right now definitively that that is not going to be me. Leche might have a very serious wardrobe once she hits her full size.
Tell us about your personal tastes, Alyssa. Dog fashion, as Maria wrote, varies—like there’s Everlane for dogs but there’s also Moncler puffer vests for your dogs. What’s your personal style that you would extend to Leche?
Something that I would avoid are the hype items. Our dear friend bought Leche a very cute hoodie that fakes Supreme but says “Leche” instead of “Supreme.” I’m not a big Supreme wearer. I’m not a big Off-White wearer, so I’m not going to buy the kind of stuff that’s fake hypey gear for Leche. However, I would maybe buy her a Patagonia-type fleece because I own one of those. She has a Pendleton dog bed. I’ve always been into that aesthetic.
I wouldn’t say I’m minimalist per se, but I definitely am drawn to more classic, timeless items. I would buy her a very nice leather leash and collar set that would last a long time. I think the doggie rain slickers are really cute. I love a classic raincoat, and I’ve seen some of those in various colors. But, yes, I think Leche will dress in a very classic, timeless way—as her mom does. I don’t think I’ll get her anything flashy or bling-y or really of-the-moment trendy. I guess the trendiest thing would be the tie-dye that I mentioned before but, hey, tie dye’s never really out. You can find tie-dye anywhere.
“Leche might have a very serious wardrobe once she hits her full size.”
So, what are you feeding Leche now?
Our breeder was very, very, very thorough. She basically wrote all of these documents that we’ve read. She likes this one brand called Life’s Abundance and it’s hard to find. We don’t make her dog food or anything like that and we feed her hard food because she’s just a baby and I think she likes to crunch.
And we’ll give her a Kong toy with the food in it, the hard food and a little bit of peanut butter.
Do you think you’ll become one of those people who carries their dog in a designer bag?
It’s very funny. I do have a large Chanel tote that was a gift and the first few times I took her anywhere, I didn’t have a dog bag yet so Leche went in the Chanel bag and I said to her at one point, “How many animals do you think get carried around in a Chanel bag? You’re not normal!” I have since gotten an actual dog bag so that probably won’t happen again, but I do appreciate that a lot of the dog carriers have become more design-focused and you can get a very lovely one that is practical and it doesn’t look like an eyesore. So, once she’s a little bit more fully grown, I’ll probably invest in one of those Wild One totes. I think those are really pretty.
I just got a beige Wild One carrier.
I’m just nervous now. I really don’t know how big she’s going to get, so I’m going to wait.
Do you think you’ll ever bring Leche to Fashion Week to get photographed?
I feel like there’s a joke at Fashion Week that weekends are Bring Your Kid to Work Day because there’re always kids in the front row on Saturday and Sunday, but I do not think I’ve ever seen a dog inside a show. In Paris, people dress up their dogs and parade them outside so the street style photographers can shoot them. That will not be me.
What’s Leche’s grooming routine like?
Part of the reason we chose the Havanese is because she’s hypoallergenic and has hair that doesn’t shed, but we do bathe her quite often, and it’s my husband’s favorite activity. It’s their bonding time.
He’s like, “I’m going to go give Leche a bath.” And an hour later, she’ll come out smelling delicious and she’s been blow-dried and she looks fluffy and pure white. We use Kin Organic Jasmine+Lily Moisturizing Dog Shampoo. It smells like heaven. I love it.
Would Leche ever become an influencer?
This is something I’ve always been curious about. Do people get a dog and set out to monetize it right away? When we got Leche, we knew she would be cute, but we didn’t know she would be this cute. And whenever I put a photo of her on Instagram people go insane and people are like, “When are you going to start her on Instagram?” I feel like that would just be so much work and I have never really been enticed by the influencer life and I feel like with my full-time job and everything, having an influencer in my house—that’s not me. I have a friend, John Jannuzzi, who has a cookie company, and he and his girlfriend watched Leche when we were away. And I was like, “If you ever want to borrow Leche for a shoot for your cookie site, feel free.” That’s as far as I would go.
I love that. It’s literally milk and cookies.
I just want to spread the joy posting adorable photos of her.
Photography by Tayler Smith