Back To Nature
Karl Lagerfeld once said that using fur in fashion is justified as the ‘beasts’ that fur comes from “would kill us if they could”. In a 2009 interview with BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ Programme the Chanel front man described the furore that the use of fur provokes as ‘childish’ in a ‘meat-eating world’ where people ‘wear leather for shoes and clothes and even handbags’. Never one to not cause a stir, Lagerfeld’s comments provoked mass outrage from animal rights campaignists and charities alike. A spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) likened Lagerfeld to a “dinosaur” in his arguably draconian views of the fur industry. She observed, “Karl Lagerfeld is a fashion dinosaur who is as out of step as his furs are out of style”. The spokesperson is undoubtedly widely supported in her views on fur being completely unacceptable in our contemporary society, with a 2011 RSPCA poll revealing that “93% of people are against fur”. However taxidermy enthusiast Rachel Poliquin supports Lagerfeld’s views in her book. Poliquin says,
“Unless you live your life without using any animal products, and you don’t wear leather shoes or a leather belt and you don’t eat meat, you’re always a hypocrite, there is no gray. I think a lot of people like to live in the gray zone”.
Lagerfeld’s comments come in an age where the rise of vintage fashion appears to never be ceasing and therefore retro fur, naturally, has also made its mark this millennium.
Fur was at the height of fashion in the forties and fifties when the societal elite of that era wouldn’t be seen dead without a fur coat. Fur was more than just a cosy accoutrement to your wardrobe; it was an emblem of status that quickly became the epitome of post-war luxury and femininity. Screen sirens such as Greta Garbo, Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe were all fans of fur, with Marilyn Monroe even referencing fur in her 1963 rendition of song ‘Santa Baby’, where she asks Mr Christmas to “slip a sable under the tree” (a sable being a species of marten-a small weasel-like creature, native to northern Asia, that was used to make fur coats and stoles). Interestingly, however, all of the images of Marilyn wearing fur have now been vetoed by Anna Strasberg (the third wife of Lee Strasberg, to whom Marilyn left the majority of her estate when she died) citing Marilyn’s love of animals as the reason. Like Monroe, Hollywood icon, Audrey Hepburn also saw the darker side of luxury, and described herself as “anti-fur” in an interview with The Chicago Tribune in 1992. Hepburn stated,
“For many years, I didn’t think fur suited me, but years ago I gave in and had a mink fur coat made. Then I woke up to what it meant. Now it’s hanging in the attic, and there it shall stay.”
But, is heading down to your local vintage shop and purchasing a fur coat that possibly once belonged to one of these golden age glamour girls cruel? There is of course the sentimental value to consider. It seems unlikely that raiding your Great Aunt’s dusty wardrobe and choosing to adopt a vintage fur coat would ever be construed as an inhumane act. Surely, it’s just treasuring a beloved family heirloom, which has been passed down through the generations? But, just because you’re opting for a fur of the vintage variety as opposed to a more modern mink, it doesn’t mean you’re taking a stand against fur. Old or new, by wearing any fur, you are perpetuating the trend. It does mean however that you’re not supporting the contemporary fur industry, which has been heavily criticised as having crueller practices than the fur industry of decades past. It is alleged that animals in Asia are being kept in most horrifying living conditions before having their fur literally torn off their backs.
If the thought of real fur turns your stomach, but you still want to exude glamour (without a side ordering of guilt), there is of course the faux fur option. Faux fur became especially popular in the nineties, when PETA launched it’s “I’d rather be seen naked than wearing fur” campaign. The campaign came at a time where there was a huge public uprising against the fur industry, and at that time, there was a massive likelihood that you could be subject to having red paint thrown over you if you chose to step out in real fur. The campaign was driven by the top five supermodels of the time: Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Elle Macpherson, who were all keen to promote the ugly beginnings of the beautiful end. Due to it ‘not being the real thing’, faux fur has become both easily accessible and affordable, with it being just as easy to purchase a faux fur coat on the high street as it is at one of the luxury fashion houses and naturally, at a fraction of the price. However, many fear that the initial message behind the creation of faux fur, that of helping to save animals’ lives has sadly been lost. In recent years the fashion industry has reported a sales boom in fur products-which some experts profess could be linked to the increasing popularity of faux fur. They claim that faux fur has actually had an adverse effect on the reduction of this once beloved material. They feel that this has been done by the apparent normalisation of wearing clothes that look like fur, and therefore, this has allowed people who want to wear the real thing to do so without judgement, as it looks so similar to the fake alternative.
This insidious return of fur to the fashion industry appears to have been celebrated by many of Tinseltown’s current divas, such as Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce. Shockingly, out of the five supermodels involved in the nineties “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign, only Christy Turlington is now still against wearing fur.
So, should we give the finger to fur, or should we frolic around in a fox or two? Fur will undoubtedly always exude Hollywood glamour and status, and even though today it is unlikely that you’ll still have red paint thrown over your fur coat (flour is the new trend) but you will always have blood on your hands.
 Adams, S.2009. Karl Lagerfeld defends fur industry saying ‘beasts’ would kill us if we didn’t kill them.
 Poliquin, R (2012) The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing.
 Siegel, J. 1992. Audrey Hepburn on a role. 20 January, The Chicago Tribune.
Words by Chloe Ellen Stewart
Illustration by Kaye Sedgwick