BETRAYAL OF THE FUR TURNCOATS
WHEN Madonna wears something, you can be pretty sure that a copycat version will pop up on the high street within a matter of weeks. But instead of sparking off a wave of imitations, her latest fashion offering - a GBP 1,000 sheepskin-lined fox fur Cossack hat - has sparked a wave of controversy. Only 10 years ago, any celebrity who valued their public profile wouldn't have been seen dead wearing anything dead and walking down the street in a fur coat was asking for trouble. But that was in the Nineties, the era of the famous "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" poster, sponsored by animal rights organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which featured five supermodels - Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson - doing just that.
Designers all over the world declared that faux fur was fab, Calvin Klein announced that he would no longer use fur in his collections and billboards around the country featured a David Bailey shot of a model dragging a blood-soaked fur coat above the line, "It takes 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat, but only one to wear it." Oh yes. And Madonna went jogging in the park in a T-shirt declaring: "Fur is worn by beautiful animals and ugly people." But that was then. Now, Madonna is only one of a whole host of turncoats who have publicly defied the anti-fur lobby by stepping out in animal pelts. There's Liz Hurley, Whitney Houston, Robbie Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Puff Daddy, Emma Bunton. . . the list goes on and on.
But one of the most startling volteface's came from Naomi Campbell, who was sacked by PETA after she wore a full-length mink coat at a Milan fashion show, apparently reneging on a written promise never to model fur. She issued a statement saying her support for PETA was wrong. "I made a mistake with PETA, " she said. "I found them quite violent and I wanted to dissociate myself from them." She went on to say:
"I respect people's beliefs against fur but I don't like the way that particular organisation do their promotions. I like fur but I don't wear it a lot and I'd never wear the fur of an endangered species."
Then, just this March, Naomi took to the catwalk again, this time for Fendi, swathed in a massive sable coat.
Such blatant trivialisation of the antifur campaign is exacerbated by the fact that whereas in the Nineties, many designers advocated the use of faux fur, they're now going all out for the real thing - with the notable exception of a select few, including Stella McCartney, whose parents Paul and Linda were involved in the founding of PETA.
Stella has used her celebrity status to try to put an end to the fashion world's love affair with fur. She is to star in a thought provoking, often shocking, minute-long film alongside famous friends including Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Geri Halliwell and George Michael. The film, depicting brutal scenes of animals being slaughtered for their skins, is being made by campaign group, Respect for Animals - which last year won a 15-year battle to ban fur farms in England and Wales - and is expected to be shown in cinemas across Europe.
BUT, DESPITE this, the list of designers who use fur reads like a Who's Who of the fashion week shows: Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Clements Ribeiro, Marc Jacobs, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. Jan Brown, spokesperson for the British Fur Trade Association, says: "In 1985, 45 established catwalk designers were using fur in their ready-to-wear collections. In 2000 this number had increased to 400."
So, what has caused this massive backlash against the anti-fur campaign?
Shelly Vella of Cosmopolitan magazine points the finger at Saga Furs of Scandinavia, a global producer of fox and mink. "Saga started sponsoring fashion students to encourage them to use fur in their final shows, " says Shelly.
And last year, the Daily Express reported that Saga had been supplying pelts to fashion colleges. However, Professor Wendy Dagworth of the Royal College of Art denies students have been targeted.
"We have an open policy on fur and let the students choose for themselves. We have students from all over the world and they all have different opinions but I think that Britain will always reject it."
But Tom Steifel-Kristensen, director of communications of Saga Furs, says:
"Many companies provide fabrics of all kinds for students to use, not just those businesses specialising in fur. All students have free choice of what materials to use and if they are choosing fur it is in only response to the demand in the industry - if people weren't buying fur, designers would not be using it. Over the last five years there has been a global increase in the use of fur in ready-towear fashion but, I am afraid we cannot accept the compliment of being solely responsible for this trend."
According to Mark Glover, campaign director of Respect for Animals, Saga also has close links with the designers themselves. "Saga is a huge company with a turnover of around $ 1billion and they spend a lot of money on promoting fur and persuading designers to use it in their collections, which means that catwalk fur gets great publicity, " he says.
"They have a list of fur-using designers which they are very proud of, showing it to anyone who asks. That list must have cost an absolute fortune to build up."
Given that the average woman about town isn't likely to be filling her winter wardrobe with D&G separates, you might not think that this use of catwalk fur is going to affect anyone but the fabulously wealthy.
But you'd be wrong. "Everything filters down from the big designers, " says Shelly Vella. "Where they go, the high street follows. Karen Millen brought out pony skin handbags and I remember seeing a catwalk show for Morgan in Paris, which featured items made of rabbit skin."
The ban on fur farming was agreed last year but farms have until the end of
2002 to wind up their operations. In the meantime, a report by the Department of Trade and Industry shows that business in booming. Last year, the UK exported more than 20 per cent more fur than in
1999 and also imported 25 per cent more fur than last year.
Peter Willasey, spokesperson for Harrods (which sells its own range of fur items), says that the store has noticed an increase in the number of customers purchasing fur over the course of the last year.
But is it only the big fashion designers who are to blame for this trend? Jan Brown identifies other factors. "Fur is on the increase because it is much more accessible to people now, " she says. "Instead of going to specialist outlets, consumers can now go to department stores."
And that's not all. "Consumers can think for themselves and because there's less anti-fur propaganda around today, people are choosing fur because fake fur can't compete with the quality of the real thing."
But Dawn Carr of PETA disagrees wholeheartedly. "I don't think it's true that wearing fur is on the increase, " she says. "The average person will still find it as abhorrent as they always did. As for the lack of anti-fur propaganda - well, it may be true that the early Nineties were our heyday for campaigning, but as an organisation we are as active as ever."
ACTIVE they may be, but some of PETA's strategies are not proving as effective as the "I'd Rather Go Naked" campaign. These days their tactics have included throwing maggots (albeit fake ones) on to catwalks and - so their website claims - delivering a package full of maggot-infested animal innards to American Vogue editor and famous fur-wearer Anna Wintour. And given that there has been so much media coverage of the so-called "terrorism" of extreme animal rights organisations - although PETA has not been involved - these sensationalist tactics may in fact be putting people off. "It could be a factor, " says Mark Glover. "Any negative publicity arising from shock tactics is bound to make people less sensitive to the anti-fur cause."
That said, Mark, like Dawn, has great faith in good old British moral standards. "I do think the majority of Britons would not advocate wearing fur, " he says.
"Fur farming in Britain was banned in November last year for reasons of public morality, which proves just how strongly we as a country feel about it. Fox farming is nationally recognised as cruel. When we began our campaign in 1985, there were 300 fur retailers advertised nationwide.
Now there are just 25."
And, given that the large British fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan all refuse to feature fur items in their fashion shoots, it looks like, for once, Madonna's name may well be missing from the Best Dressed lists.
Great debate that divides fashion FOR some designers, fur will never go out of fashion. Patrons of pelt include Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino and UK designers John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and favourite of the stars Julien Macdonald.
Jennifer Aniston's designer of choice, Lawrence Steele, who crafted her wedding dress, is also a fur fanatic. With mink coats lined in 24-carat gold, his message last year was clear - there is nothing more glamorous than fur.
Clements Ribeiro's autumn/winter 2001 show featured rabbit and raccoon fur and Celine's coyote. With big names such as Prada, Gucci, Fendi and Versace taking animal inspiration in a literal sense, it is easy to assume that those who faux, go it alone. Not so.
Stella McCartney, one of Britain's most successful fashion exports refuses to use fur or leather in any of her garments, calling the fur revival "a sick, twisted little fashion moment" and Vivienne Westwood would rather don a M&S twin-set than use an animal pelt.
As would Calvin Klein, Emanuel Ungaro and Moschino. And, regardless of what many fashionistas think, fur is not always rapturously received on the runways.
Italian designer Alberta Ferretti was criticised when she produced a patchwork skirt made from hamster fur - a snip at GBP 4,500.