By Neesha Gill
This couture week in Paris, something new hit the runways: an all-fur couture catwalk by Italian brand Fendi. Whilst this was apparently a one-off affair, it is reflective of a trend for fur that seems to be growing: it was shown on the runways of Ralph & Russo, Elie Saab, Dior and Serkan Cura, to name just a few.
Even for the most voracious of carnivores, there are concerns about the rise of fashion fur, however. Much of it is sourced from China, where the animals are kept in horrific conditions, and are often skinned whilst still alive. Furthermore, it’s well known that stray dogs and cats (or even missing pets) often end up as fur trim on garments coming from Asian suppliers.
In fact, as animal rights group PETA stated, the world’s largest fur exporter is China, where animals such as, foxes, dogs, rabbits, cats and minks are brutally and inhumanely slaughtered for superficial purposes.
For this reason, German luxury fashion designer Hugo Boss recently announced that his brand would be somewhat fur-free by 2016. Unlike Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, all of whom have banned fur altogether from their brands, Boss is only shunning some kinds of fur. As Bernd Ludwig Keller, Boss’s Brand and Creative Director of sportswear stated in a 2014 Sustainability Report:
“As one of the leading companies in the premium and luxury segment, we have a great deal of responsibility. In our view, sourcing down feathers from the plucking of live animals is not ethical and we have therefore taken the decision to reject this practice. When purchasing merino wool, we give preference to suppliers who do not use the painful mulesing procedure on their animals.
We also have high standards for the use of fur from farmed animals: from our Fall/Winter 2016 Collection onward, we will no longer be using raccoon, dog or rex rabbits. This means we will not be using any farmed fur (my italics) in any of our HUGO BOSS clothing collections and are sending out a clear signal.”
Actually, we’re not sure how ‘clear’ this signal is. Whilst farmed fur may be out, wild fur is, by implication, accepted and could include anything from wolf skin to wild mink. We believe all fur needs to be stigmatised in order for us to stop the slaughter of animals for fashion–let’s face it, no one is going to ask whether the mink you’re wearing was wild or farmed; vintage or new, and few consumers would know (or care about) the difference.
If You Don’t Think About It, It Won’t Go Away
The bloody origins of fur is something that most fashionistas don’t even want to think about–and that includes the master furrier himself, Karl Lagerfeld.
Lagerfeld, who is the Creative Director of Fendi, recently said in an interview with the New York Times that despite being ‘sympathetic toward the anti-fur cause, he ‘prefers not to know’ where fur comes from: “For me, as long as people eat meat and wear leather, I don’t get the message. It’s very easy to say no fur, no fur, no fur, but it’s an industry….I’m very sympathetic. I hate the idea of killing animals in a horrible way, but I think all that improved a lot. I think a butcher shop is even worse. It’s like visiting a murder. It’s horrible, no? So I prefer not to know it,” he stated.
This ‘ignorance is bliss’ attitude no doubt helped Lagerfeld to more easily design each piece for the ‘fur couture’ catwalk at Fendi last season, which attracted animal rights activists to rally outside the Théâtre de Champs-Élysees during the show. It seems in keeping with European values to protest such frivolous use of animal’s lives–after all, the European Union finally made it illegal to sell animal-tested cosmetics within Europe in 2013. Yet the fashion industry seems to exist in a bubble, oblivious to the ethics most Europeans seem to support–or perhaps they are more focused on those of the Russians, Arabs and Chinese.
Indeed, it is these three markets that are the ‘holy trinity’ for the couture industry. It may be a generalisation, but in those regions of the world, there seems to be much less regard for animal welfare, and little empathy for smaller, sentient beings. Indeed, the Arab market is thought to snap up around 35% of the couture market’s offerings, with China following close behind at around 30%. The current embargo on Russia means it stands at around 25%. In short, Europeans are hardly important clients for couture anymore, and their preferences – and ethics – are no longer catered to.
A More Ethical Approach?
Still, some companies, such as the Kering Group (The French luxury goods holding company owner of 17 different luxury brands, including Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Balenciaga and Stella McCartney) appear to have twangs of conscience.
In their 2014 Sustainability Report, Kering pledged: “100% of precious skins and furs in Kering’s products will come from verified captive breeding operations or from wild, sustainably managed populations by 2016. Additionally, suppliers will employ accepted animal welfare practices and humane treatment in sourcing.”
Whilst this is definitely a step in the right direction and reflects the kind of commitment made by Boss, if Kering and other fashion brands truly cared about animal welfare, they would just stop killing our furry friends for fashion. But the truth is, it’s hard to blame the businesses. After all, they’re just reacting to demand. Perhaps it’s time to start changing cultural mindsets. I mean, does anyone who lives in a region where temperatures can reach 50 degrees really need a fur coat?