If You Spot Linda Rodin, Winky Is Not Far Behind
The New York fashion icon’s Poodle is often recognized more often than her.
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As paragons of New York style go, Linda Rodin ranks very high. Rodin, who can often be spotted with red lips, outsized shades, and a denim-centered outfit, started her career as a teenager modeling in Italy before moving to New York, where she shifted her focus to fashion. In 1979, she opened a boutique, called LindaHopp, in SoHo, where she sold clothes by Todd Oldham and Norma Kamali, as well as her own designs. Rodin relaunched her line last month with a tightly edited, impossibly cool selection of denim pieces.
When she closed the shop, Rodin pivoted to styling, a job she, admittedly, didn’t even know existed before it was suggested to her as an option; she would do it for almost 40 years. She launched a line of beauty products, Rodin, with, improbably, one single product (a face oil, at a time when that was definitively not a thing) that would quickly go on to achieve cult status and later be scooped up by Estée Lauder.
She even designed a line of chic dog collars and leashes called Linda and Winks, named of course for her and her 12-year-old Poodle, whom she is, nowadays, rarely without, and whose lanky frames and soft grey hair almost mirror hers. (Rodin is quick to point out, though, that she went gray in her 30s, years before she met Winky.) The Wildest caught up with the stylish pair.
Where did the name Winky come from?
It’s very funny. My mother’s best friend when I was growing up was this fabulous, beatnik-y kind of woman artist named Winky. And oh, how I wished my name was Winky because she was so cool. I just loved her. This was in the ’50s. She was a real artist and wore these big black glasses and capri pants and her hair in a big ponytail…she was just it! She looked like Ava Gardner in that movie with Marlon Brando — Night of the Iguana. She was just that glamorous. So, I named him Winky!
Then, I found out about a year later from my brother who was friendly with Winky’s daughter that her name wasn’t Winky. She was from Poland, and her real name was Arlinky, but when she moved to America it became Arlene. But she didn’t like that, so she just adopted her name as Winky from Arlinky. So, my brother said, “You’ve got a dog named Arlene.”
Now, that is an origin story. Did you two have dogs growing up?
We had one Poodle, a ginger Poodle, named Bounce. Then we got a Schnauzer who lived to be 21. But my family had a million animals growing up: we had birds, we had alligators hatching in the basement, we had chickens and hamsters. There were animals all over the house. My parents just loved animals. My sister was a great rider who loved horses. And my mother was just a bleeding heart. If she saw a bird fall out of a tree, she’d nurse it back to health with a dropper filled with whiskey. It was always just animals all the time.
Nowadays, you’re often photographed with Winky. You two are so recognizable; do people stop you when you’re out and about?
What’s funny is people come up to me and say, “Isn’t that Winky?” A lot of people actually. Winky’s famous. They don’t recognize me at first; they recognize him. It’s really very funny.
You do bear some resemblance to each other.
Well, physically when I got him, he was black. And I’ve had white-gray hair since I was 35. So it wasn’t like I thought I was getting a silver dog. They told me he would be silver, and I thought, There’s no way, he’s jet black! But they were right. And we’re both petite and thin. Winky has a great little shape to him. His parents were actually show dogs.
So, Winky’s parents were famous?
Yes, they were very famous Poodles, which I didn’t know. I couldn’t care less about buying a show dog; he was just so cute. But he does come from show dogs. In fact, the first time he needed to be groomed I called the groomer the breeder recommended and this guy showed up at my front door with five rolling cases like Marilyn Monroe. I’d never seen so much equipment! And it took five hours and cost $500 (and I thought it would be $30) and it really freaked Winky out. But he did tell me, “Winky is one of the most physically perfect Poodles I’ve seen.”
Ha! Do you think he would have had the show dog personality?
He can be very playful. He’s going to be 13. And he used to be very much like me: happy to be alone. I’m not really that social even though everybody thinks I am. I just am when I have to be. So he just kind of wants to be with me, and I just want to be with him. I always say for me he’s a cross between Cary Grant and Charlie Chaplin because he’s so elegant, but he can be funny. He’s a really funny character and just really adorable. The only downside is his food issues and the barking.
What’s that all about?
Since COVID he’s become a food addict. He never ate much; he would pick at his dinner, never gave a shit about food. And when COVID came, he became obsessed with eating. But he would make me prepare the food, and then I would give it to him, and he would bark as if there was no food. So it became a barking match for hours at night. Now I’m used to it, and he barks a little less, and I just put too much food in the bowl so he won’t bark. But he doesn’t gain weight! He is always between 18 and 20 pounds, and he eats a pound and a half of organic chicken every day.
How does he do it?
I don’t know! We don’t even exercise a lot. When he was young we used to go out for walks for hours which was great. Now if we get a half hour twice a day, it’s a lot.
How was COVID for you and Winky in the city?
The tragedy of COVID for us was we were walking down the street right in the beginning, April 2020, and he collapsed on the street, and he rolled up on his back and went completely stiff, and his eyes rolled back in his head. And I ran to the vet, literally, and I was hysterical. I didn’t know what was going on! And they said it could be a stroke or epilepsy or vertigo.
When they finally called me back after two hours they said it had been a vestibular episode, which is not uncommon, even for people. The problem is that since that day, I never left him alone. It’s been two and a half years, and he comes with me everywhere. I even went to have an MRI, and I brought him. I’m afraid if I leave him, and God forbid he has an episode, and I come home and he is on his back shaking. I would never forgive myself.
So you’ve been joined at the hip.
The first year nobody was going anywhere anyway, so everybody did that, and it wasn’t unusual. But it’s been hard the last year, I’d say, when we can be more out and about, and we’re together. Then, a few months ago, he had a checkup and they found that something was wrong with his spleen. He had pancreatitis about a year and a half ago, which we have under control. He had to have a sonogram and there was a big tumor in there. So I had to wait six weeks to get the proper doctor, who my vet highly recommended, and I was shaking every minute like, “What’s going to be the outcome?” And they did remove his spleen, and it was not cancer. So, now he’s OK.
That’s a relief.
He’s a trooper. He’s tough, but he’s getting old, and I can tell. So it's going to be different, but as long as he lives to be 100, I’ll take care of him.
You’re also working on a book right now, and I assume Winky must feature prominently in it.
Yes, definitely. It’s a photo book. It has nothing to do with writing; I’m not a writer. It’s like an art book, but it’s also an autobiography. I have almost every photograph — from when I was born — of my entire family. I have every letter I’ve ever received; I have every boyfriend’s letter I’ve received. I have every piece of paraphernalia from junior high school and high school. I have all my drawings. I never realized I was so nostalgic, but I really am.
The book is not chronological; I’m not starting when I was born and going to where I am now. It’s just a visual book, and it’s going to beautiful. And Winky is, of course, going to play a big role. He’s in a lot of pictures. It’s pretty funny; we’ve got one picture of [my past] Basset Hound and a million of Winky.
Obviously, you have a lot of dog people following you on Instagram. Do you follow any dog accounts?
I follow @Wolfgang2242. He lives in Michigan somewhere, and he only has senior animals. He has 11 seniors. He gets them when they’re 18 and dying. He has Bikini the pig, who weighs 700 pounds, and a turkey that he spent money on to give him plastic surgery for his webbed feet. He must be a writer because all of his comments are brilliant. He just adopts seniors and does every surgery they need — anything that they need — and is game to keep them alive as long as he can.
One is always dying, and then he gets another. They have no teeth, no jaws, but he makes it so funny that you don’t feel sorry for them. Like Saturday is taco day, and he piles them all into the car and they go get tacos. It’s a riot. I do have a lot of animal things that come up because if I see an animal, especially an elephant or a donkey or a monkey, I “like” it and then I get more. But besides Wolfgang, I’m not a particular dog follower.
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Fiorella Valdesolo is a writer, editor, brand and creative consultant. She’s worked with New York, Elle, The Wall Street Journal, T, Glamour, Vogue, Women's Health, Nylon, Style.com, Net-a-Porter, and Domino, among others. She is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of the independent food magazine Gather Journal and the author of Pretty: The Nylon Book of Beauty. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner Nate and daughter Aluna. Her dream interview remains Stevie Nicks.