You don’t have to wear fur. They make such great fakes. There’s no reason to kill an animal. —Grace Slick
Fur has been a never-ending part of the fashion industry since early man covered himself in animal pelts in an attempt to keep warm. There was a time when fur was not so much a luxury as it was a necessary means of surviving through cold winters. With time, though, we’ve learned to do more with other fabrics that do a much better job of insulating the body from the cold. Today, there is no legitimate need to use furs of any kind in clothing.
Yet, it happens, a lot, especially among French and Italian designers. While a few designers such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren have committed to using synthetic furs, and we tend to see more synthetics used by Asian designers, European labels still make heavy use of furs. In fact, for the fall/winter season that was just shown, the use of furs was exceptionally heavy, making at least a token appearance in almost every collection. Italian labels, some of which began as furriers over 100 years ago, have been especially reluctant to drop the material.
So when Giorgio Armani announced yesterday that new technologies “render the use of cruel practices unnecessary as regards animals,” and pledged to end his use of furs beyond the 2016 fall/winter collection, one has to wonder if this is the first domino to drop in a very long-standing chain of European designers. Armani has, for many years, been the most successful and most profitable brand among Italian designers. Armani himself is one of the richest people in the country and carries a lot of influence not only in the fashion community but across all of Italy. If Armani stops using fur, everyone is going to notice.
The whole issue of whether fur is still appropriate for fashion remains a heated debate. On one side, Elisa Allen, Vice-President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) writes that, “… there is no kind way to obtain fur, unless you are willing to go out on the motorway and dodge lorries while scraping dead foxes off the asphalt.”
At the same time, Jan Erik Carlson of Saga furs counters PETA criticism by saying, “We have not yet reached the boundaries of quality, creativity and excellence in fur design.” He claims that high standards in fur production eliminate the cruelty aspect that is so often the primary point of fur’s critics.
While synthetic furs have been used much more frequently, fur production across Europe remains a $40 billion industry. It is questionable whether the faux-fur industry could ever replace that kind of revenue stream, especially when quality among faux furs tends to run the gamut from hideous to a level impossible to discern from real. Popular sentiment among high-profile celebrities tends to be very strongly anti-fur, but at the retail level fur remains a top seller that retailers can’t afford to give up, especially when other related sales are declining.
Amidst this continuing debate, Armani’s move is a strong one. I cannot imagine that there will not be other prominent labels who will join him in banning furs from their collections. Should this increase public pressure for all designers to eliminate furs, the result could be quite dramatic.
But then, Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld has said, “In a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and clothes and even handbags, the discussion of fur is childish.” His point has to be taken seriously. Can we honestly complain about one manner of animal exploitation without changing our attitudes about all use of animal products? We seem rather hypocritical when we complain about the use of fur while wearing leather boots and eating a hamburger.
This debate is far from over, but those wanting Armani furs had better buy them now. They won’t be here after the fall season.