Fur and against

Fur on the catwalk for Gucci.

Love or loathe it, fur is a dominant trend with 69% of designers using it in Autumn/Winter collections. How did fur, once taboo, become so acceptable again?

LOVE or loathe it, fur is a dominant accessory (69% of designers used it in autumn/winter collections) and ubiquitous on international catwalks. Shown by Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Balmain, Versace, Marni and Tom Ford, the emphasis was on new textures, patterns and dye techniques.

There was as much faux fur as genuine, with this lush material promoted for everyday luxury in understated, low-key colour palettes, and simple, untypical garments, such as sheared fur sweaters, dresses and skirts.

However, with PETA still giving away furs to homeless people, “to counteract reports of a fur comeback”, fur remains divisive.

The doyenne of high fashion, and editor of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, is unapologetic about her love of fur: despite being served a skinned racoon while lunching at the Four Seasons in 1996, she hasn’t been deterred from wearing fur, or from supporting the billion-dollar industry.

The September issue of American Vogue shows a pelt-wearing Anna being asked by a reporter “is there a way to wear fur this winter?” “There’s always a way to wear fur,” she says. “Personally, I have it on my back.”

Others in the fashion industry are anti-fur, most notably the vegetarian designer, Stella McCartney, who said: “I don’t understand the need for fur. The use of real fur is just repulsive and I think there are plenty of ways to make a coat, or a bag, look great without harming innocent animals.”

Bearing in mind these heated emotions, I have volunteered to wear fur for a week — what reaction will I provoke? Will vegetarians berate me, small children cry, and dogs bark ? Will I evoke Meryl Streep, in The Devil Wears Prada, or suffer tirades of anti-fur fury and a red-paint splatter?

To start, I wore a vintage rabbit-fur jacket to my local vegetarian restaurant/coffee shop. Paired with a simple knit, jeans and flat pumps, a low-key look was best to balance the flamboyance of my fur. Ordering my coffee and looking the staff steadily in the eye as I paid, I anticipated a frosty response. The reaction was neutral, expressions were pleasantly non-committal, and change was handed over without a flicker. As I left, I strained to listen for a delayed laugh or exclamation of distaste; there was none. What I had thought would be the hardest challenge had passed off uneventfully.

Later in the week, I had an al fresco family wedding and wore a mink stole with my outfit — which was wise as the day was chilly damp. The fur felt decadently glamorous and I soon enjoyed one of its stellar attributes: it is really, really warm.

The reaction was strictly split along age lines — the older women all loved it and stroked it covetously, while the younger women didn’t want to touch it. For them, if it was real, it was repulsive.

Here is the problem for designers trying to woo a younger client for fur — to our mother’s and grandmother’s generation, it was the epitome of luxury, a definitive status symbol, but for younger women it’s more complex — even though they’re the generation brought up on the ‘because you’re worth it’ mantra, they have ethical issues about wearing fur.

Notably, on the day, the bride teamed her vintage dress with a fun fur jacket for a bohemian twist — so fur is a trend worn by younger consumers, but in a different guise.

My final foray in fur was dinner in Hunter’s Hotel, in Wicklow.

Wearing a Russian ermine jacket, I was, at last, provoking a reaction, as I noticed the clientele subjecting me to intense scrutiny and whispering to their fellow guests.

As Hunter’s has been a haven for celebrities, including Brian Ferry, Steven Spielberg, David Bowie and even Swedish royalty over the years, I flattered myself they thought I was a mysterious film star resting up post a traumatic divorce or plastic surgery.

Sandra Fitzgibbon, of Linen and Ware has seen a marked interest in the revival of fur.

“I believe that dramas like Downton Abbey and Mad Men, and events like Film Fatale, have brought the glamour of the 1920s, through to the 1950s and beyond, back into fashion, and furs are a big part of that. In the past couple of years, I have had a lot of women of all ages purchasing and renting vintage fur stoles and scarves for special events, such as weddings and the races. But, recently, I have noticed that customers are buying vintage fur coats, jackets, collars and hats, items for every day use,” Fitzgibbon says.

I was surprised at the subdued response to my furs — no tears, no trauma and no retaliatory paint. Maybe people don’t care, or maybe they have other, pressing concerns in recessionary times, but the response was so muted I wondered if people couldn’t discern if I was wearing real or fake.

After all modern fakes mimic the real thing very effectively.

As I returned my furs, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the injection of glamour they lent to a typical week — there is no doubt that fur carries alluring associations, a million miles removed from the stresses and strains of modern life.

Maybe if I had received more negative feedback I wouldn’t have felt the same, but what is certain is that fur will continue to be contentious.

For me, I feel that it’s a matter of personal conscience and conscious consuming, and that vintage probably is the best solution for someone who wants to try the fur trend: the logic being that the animal was killed for its pelt long ago.

Fur is a luxury.

And as long as there’s demand the supply will continue, and so will the debate.


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