Cat Lady Chic

by Kelby Vera

So What if I Squandered Eight of My Nine Lives? I Looked Good Doing It
The character of the Cat Lady conjures a variety of images, few of them flattering: shut-ins with frumpy fur-speckled sweaters and clunky shoes; the bespectacled grade school teacher who always packed tuna sandwiches for lunch and smelled like soup; a homely housebound spinster whose porch is adorned with bowls of coagulated Fancy Feast and a clowder of mangy strays. But no longer shall Cat Ladies (and Gentlemen) wallow under the banner of dowdy and dateless: the cat-obsessive has been reincarnated as perennial It Girl in the pages of Diane Lovejoy’s latest book, Cat Lady Chic.

Lovejoy takes an endearing stab toward the Cat Lady persona with this sleekly curated collection of portraits, featuring fabulous starlets paired with their feline companions. Hollywood bombshells Audrey Hepburn, Lena Horne, and Elizabeth Taylor embrace cats while posed in comfort at home or on set; Painter Georgia O’Keeffe, Maya Deren, Anna Pavlova, and Tracey Emin interspersed with paintings of Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, Impressionist ballerinas, and wealthy Roman patricians representing fine art’s feline fan club.

What was your inspiration for putting this book out into the world? Well, whenever I met fellow Cat Ladies at signings for my first book, Cat Lady Chronicles (2012), I was pleasantly surprised to receive thanks for my modest efforts to challenge the derogatory image of the Cat Lady, and I kept being struck by the fact that at every event that I did in Houston I was meeting very attractive, well-spoken people who would say to me, “I’m so glad that you are putting Cat Lady Chronicles out there because I’m tired of being ridiculed or maligned for being a Cat Lady.” I work full-time as editor of art books and a publications director [at a museum], so I decided that I would try my hand and write a kind of love letter to the Cat Ladies by way of an introductory essay.

Then I wanted to go out and gather what I call my supporting evidence… The first image I found that really gave me the inspiration to think this could become an interesting book would be one of Elizabeth Taylor with a Siamese cat—which I love, it’s so mid-century—and with the art in the background it kind of brings together my two worlds. I researched about 400 images to get to my top 100. Frankly, the difficult part was that there wasn’t a right or wrong answer, but I’m very pleased with the ones that the publisher and I settled on.

How does womanhood affect this identity as a Cat Lady and the idea of Cat Lady Chic? I was very conscious as I was doing my research that
I wanted to have a democratic representation of a wide range of professions, and I think a lot of that comes from my own friends and feeling that I’m so fortunate to know people who succeed on their own terms and different walks of life. Naturally, there’s lots of images of models and actresses and silver screen legends and so forth, so of course I wanted to include those as they are such iconic images and I work in the art world so I wanted to have a representation of visual artists…
I just had this kind of fantasy of all these women coming together in the pages of this book and having this essay, this conversation with one another about the meaning of being a Cat Lady.

Cat Ladies are clearly having their moment in the spotlight—do you ever get a bit defensive about the title? I probably have the corner on that one right now because by default I’m sort of the go-to person at the museum. I’m happy to spread the wealth of the Cat Lady, and I’m not pretending to be an authority on the subject, but I do feel passionately about it.

Potentially, there could be something for every cat lover in the book, and I believe women will see themselves in these pictures, that they’ll relate to these pictures and really delight in being in the company of such distinguished fellow Cat Ladies. So I do think there’s that element, too, that will inspire people to feel that everyone can be proud of their status as a Cat Lady.