Despite education on the cruelty of its trade from various animal rights groups, widespread public opposition and even greater government regulation, fur has managed to make its way back into fashion – big time. Fur for a short time seemed like it might never return to the pedestal it had, but now it has clawed its way back on to the catwalk – showcased from Burberry to Lanvin and Marni this season alone. Despite years of backlash, designers are still choosing to let fur flow down their catwalks. When and why has fur become acceptable again?
It was only at the turn of the twentieth century that we started to flash our fur; an influx of fur coats, hats, stoles and more taking fur from a material used for lining coats, to an expensive commodity indicating wealth and social status when worn. As time passed fur became a certified status symbol, adorned by the rich and fashion conscious. Fur’s status is most perfectly encapsulated in an extract from a 1929 issue of Vogue which suggests that the fur you wear can reveal ‘the kind of woman you are and the kind of life you lead’. Fox fur ruled the 1930s, while the later post-war years saw mink become the epitome of luxury. When Diana Dors (Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe) was seen wearing a mink bikini at the Venice film festival in 1955 she became one of the most photographed women in the world and marked fur’s prominence in Hollywood’s golden age of the 1950s.
However for most ordinary people, real fur was still priced out of reach. Faux fur provided an affordable alternative for the fashion conscious, and for many women seeking to emulate the glamour of their favourite Hollywood sirens, it was the clear choice. Although faux fur never gained quite the status of its true-to-life alternative when it came to high fashion, it still had a relatively well-sized market to cater for. By the 1980s animal rights groups had decided they’d had enough of fur in fashion all together. Groups such as PETA, LYNX and AFL used shock tactics and celebrity endorsements to attempt to rid high fashion of fur altogether. From David Bailey’s acclaimed Dumb Animals Short film for LYNX in 1985 to PETA’s use of nude supermodels (Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Elle McPherson and Cindy Crawford) in its 1994 ‘We’d rather go naked than wear fur’ campaign- it seemed fashion’s attitude to fur was evolving. Even Karl Lagerfeld admitted that ‘young girls (didn’t) dream of fur’- fur had become a dated symbol of decadence, resonating less with young buyers and more with their grandparents. Some designers have decided to take a strong stand, with Calvin Klein pulling fur in 1994, more recently both Tommy Hilfiger and Vivienne Westwood were both talked out of fur by PETA in 2007 and Stella McCartney remains an avid animal rights protester, having launched her ‘Fur Free Fur’ range. But, in reality, all these successes are rather minor.
As can be seen in this season’s collections many designers still choose to use fur and the biggest names (Chanel, Dior, Gucci, etc) are still parading it up and down the catwalk. Oh and those model endorsers? All but McPherson and Turlington were dropped by PETA in the years following the campaign. Cindy Crawford admitted she’d had no emotional attachment to the campaign, only seeing it as another job; Naomi Campbell admitted she did ‘like fur’ and Kate Moss stubbornly said she would wear what she wanted to wear – what she wanted to wear was (you guessed it) fur.
Perhaps, despite years of campaigns depicting the cruelty of the fur trade, fashion is still naïve to the gruesome truth of where fur comes from. Perhaps they’re unaware of the fact that each year 50 million animals are murdered in the name of fur, 20% of whom are wild animals. Said wild animals are usually caught with leg traps, these leave them helplessly stuck for days without food or water until their hunter arrives, offering them a brutal death in order to preserve their fur, this usually involves a helpless animal being clubbed to death or having their chest stamped on in order to cut off their heart supply. Let’s not forget the millions of foxes farmed for their fur (70% of which takes place in the EU), they are kept in tiny, suffocating outdoor cages that usually drive them psychotic, they they are put to death by electrocution through the anus in order to (again) protect the precious commodity that is their fur. Minks, 63% of whom are farmed in the EU, in the wild can roam on average 741 acres, but in farms the are kept in 12” by 18” cages which often drive them to cannibalism. In Utah, in the US, where there is a huge mink farming industry, 20% of animals die in captivity and 30% battle with highly contagious Aleutian Disease which can result in death.
Still, it could be argued that these animals fare better than those in China, where government regulation on the fur trade is disgracefully lax. Here animals are hung upside down, have their fur shaven off and are usually thrown into a pile, bloody and battered often still alive.
There’s no denying that the fur trade is one of the cruelest in the world- perhaps that’s why in 2011 95% of the British public told the RSPCA that they would abstain from buying fur. That leaves just 5% of the British public willing to buy fur. When fur farming was banned in the UK in 2001 there were next to no fur farms left here to shut, and perhaps that says a lot about the attitude we have to fur. Jump on a plane to Dubai and you’ll find 400 fur stockists all in one city – stay in London and you’ll struggle to find a department store that will agree to stock it.
As a meat-eater myself I could be argued as hypocritical for writing this piece, for caring about animal rights at all, but perhaps instead of alienating people from the cause we should instead be encouraging participation. The fact is that stopping people from wearing fur could be achieved, already in the high-street market we’ve seen fur all but vanish. Why must high fashion be any different? With so many ingenious ways to create faux furs that replicate the texture of the real deal and proof from several established designers that it is possible to make beautiful clothes without torturing animals (spy an eye on Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Vivienne Westwood to name a few) – why not ditch the fur? Let’s petition Raf Simmons, possibly get Hedi Slimane on board, and for goodness sake, someone remind Karl Lagerfeld of those wise words he said just twenty years ago.
Words by Corrine