The death of the fur debate; to wear, or not to wear, dead animals. Anna Wintour, once served a dead raccoon while dining at the Four Seasons, and twice the victim of being tofu pied in the face, had only one sentiment in response: “Wear more fur.” The public has heeded her command. Headlines of a crazed activist splashing red paint on a woman’s mink are fuzzy memories indeed, and in fashion years that news is vintage.
The practice of killing animals and wearing them has been ingrained in our history as humans, and wearing fur has come to symbolize many things. Fur is a family heirloom, a trophy. Once a status of royalty, wearing fur signifies wealth and success. Fur carries a distinct connotation of glamour and luxury. For some, it provides an opportunity to escape and explore an alter ego; to be in costume. All of this went un-challenged until Ingrid Newkirk founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Suddenly the choice to put on that fur coat was more than just an issue of season and affair. It had become political.
PETA born in 1980, became an international movement by 1991. Freedom for Animals and CEASE (Citizens to End Animal Suffering and Exploitation) joined the crusade for animal rights, drawing attention to the atrocities committed against helpless little wide-eyed creatures. Animal rights activists have raised the question “what about the animals?” From flesh and mock-blood demonstrations, to the beautiful and famous wearing nothing but make-up; aggressive tactics have capitalized on fame, nudity, shock, and even violence and crime, to bring awareness to the issue of the animal cruelty necessary for harvesting skins
Alas, fashion is a fickle business and many still believed that those little animals were just born to be worn. According to statistics released by FICA, the Fur Information Council of America, sales dropped dramatically in the US from 1985 to 1990, but have climbed back up the charts despite the recession. Since 2009, the re-emergence of fur on the runways seems to make the statement that being anti-fur was nothing more than a passing trend. According to the Fur Commission USA, an increase of nearly $600 million in sales has been recorded for 2011/12 from the previous retail season and there has been a 44% increase over the last decade.
The fur industry has fought back with their own campaigns such as “Fur is green” and “Fur the natural responsible choice” and it may be difficult to dispute that animals are a natural resource. However, the eco-choice seems a far fetched argument, save the possibility that people are out prowling through the woods in the hopes of stumbling upon a freshly deceased fox carcass.
The vintage look as a niche market has promoted the re-using and purchasing of already been worn clothing. This makes buying a fur possible for those who otherwise could not, and for some it may be more justifiable as a recycled garment. After all, why let it hang around not keeping someone warm when you can be the one to wrap yourself in affordable luxury? Perhaps the vintage fur trend has inspired the wealthy to exercise their own purchasing power. Whatever the reason, the presence of fur in fashion is impossible to ignore. Simply adding a tuft here and there for decoration is increasingly popular by designers. Those who have shied away from the freedom of fashion expression due to the controversy surrounding the subject may be comforted. The return of fur to the runways has deemed it OK to unpack that fur and play dress up.
There will always be a market for fur. It will be worn by people who want to look chic throughout harsh winters as well as by people who could care less about fashion but need to stay warm. If warmth is all we seek, a variety of fabrics are available, all man-made and tested to extreme conditions for endurance. Techniques for crafting faux fur have improved so much that it is nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing. However, when compared to the polluting effects of fabric production and unsafe working conditions for underpaid workers, which is the lesser of the two evils? Can one in good conscious choose to purchase and wear fur?