This Art Deco brooch, on sale at deja-voodoo.com, represents a classic image of streamlined glamour: the sleek modern woman and her sleek modern whippet. The motif was all over the place in the 1920s. Here's another brooch, which may have been given away as a a premium to Vogue subscribers. In the much-reproduced Symphony in Black, Erte luxed up the pair with diamonds and furs, while sculptor Edward McCartan's 1923 Diana was nude. “A long-limbed, yuppie-slim version of the goddess Diana, she strides along, reining in a pure-bred whippet who strains suggestively at his leash,” the NYT's Grace Gleuck wrote of the sculpture, reviewing a 1997 Met exhibit.
Whippets were popular subjects for decorative sculptures and posters, and were turned into sculptural lamps and ashtray stands. With its suggestion of modernity and speed, the whippet name was used for such unlikely products as not-very-streamlined cars and men’s Stetson hats, both of which still have fans among collectors. The car’s name was intended to “denote a vehicle that was small yet swift,” explains an automotive historian. I don’t know about the hat. (In 1998, the French firm Radi Designers revived the motif with a postmodern whippet bench.)
Whippets are ideal for stylized images, because they are stylized creatures, bred for speed. Over short distances, they can reach 37 miles an hour. The breeder's artifice also produces some characteristics you you don't see in the glamorized images. Two of my brothers have whippets, including the dog in the photo. They are sweet, well-behaved dogs. But standing still or walking across a living room floor, whippets look pretty peculiar, with their hunched backs, rib-revealing torsos, and tippy-toe stance. They also shiver in the cold. (The jacket in the photo is functional, not decorative.) If you didn't know better, you might think they were malnourished. Once they set off running, however, their grace returns and you see why they became early 20th-century symbols of speed.