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The return of fur and loathing

Real fur is back with a vengeance in autumn 10 collections, posing an ethical buying dilemma for retailers

Not since the 1980s has the fashion industry embraced fur with such enthusiasm.

The luxury fabrication has been adopted across the womenswear sector for autumn 10, with designers including Roksanda Ilincic and Matthew Williamson employing what looked
like real fur on their London Fashion Week collections, while mainstream womenswear brands such as Marc Cain and Basler have also adopted it in their latest collections.

Although a controversial, yet relatively common sight on the autumn catwalks of luxury designers for years, fur has filtered back into the mainstream, dividing industry opinion.
Some, including model and fashion icon Twiggy, are up in arms that fur has made a resurgence, branding it “sad” and “disappointing”. Retailers John Lewis and Selfridges have confirmed they will stick to their strict no fur policy this autumn, while young fashion retailers such as Topshop and River Island are tapping into the trend through vintage-style faux-fur coats.

However, long-term fur stockist Harrods will continue to sell fur to offer “customer choice”, and some independent retailers are backing the trend with gusto.

The buzzword for autumn 10 is texture, and there are now more acceptable alternatives to real fur than back in the 1980s. There is good quality faux fur available, and even Mongolian wool - a fuzzy fur-like material - has emerged as a popular trim alternative to real fur.

Controversial choice
The owner of one designer indie says he has been buying into the real thing for years and that fur’s trend-led autumn 10 return cannot be ignored. However, he does not want to be named for fear of reprisals by anti-fur protesters. “Fur has returned in a big way for autumn 10 because it offers a touch of luxury in a recession,” he says. “It transforms an average item.”

In the 1990s, a huge campaign led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), was heavily endorsed by designers and models and saw much of the industry revolt against the use of fur. However, the campaign now seems to have been largely forgotten.

According to the British Fur Trade Association (BFTA), fur retail sales worldwide totalled £8.5bn in 2008, an increase of more than 58% compared with the end of the 1990s, and the BFTA adds that there was “significant growth” in UK fur sales over the same period.

Alexandra Cardenas, a spokesperson from campaign group Animal Defenders International, says fur is experiencing a comeback because consumers feel that farmed fur is an ethical product, something she refutes. “Our key message for designers and consumers is that they have to take responsibility for creating a demand for fur - a product that causes suffering to millions of animals,” she says.

However, designers have hit back, arguing that they have scrutinised their suppliers to ensure that the fur used in collections is harvested in an ethical way. A source close to one LFW designer who used fur for autumn 10 says: “We will not use fur if there is a serious concern that the fur has been produced by the unacceptable treatment of the animals.”

Some retailers are still deciding their strategy for autumn 10 when it comes to fur. The owner of one designer indie, who also asked not to be named, adds: “Almost every brand we stock has fur in some way in their collection for autumn, but for me there are still some big question marks hanging over the issue of selling it from an ethical point of view.” l

Readers' comments (1)

  • Jessica Good

    There was lots of fur at Micam (shoe show) too - had an interesting conversation with a supplier, who (quite rightly) could not understand why I would happily work with shearling, would not touch his rabbit fur trimmed boots. I do feel like a hypocrite - I design with leather, shearling, pony, kid etc, but having seen the revolting footage of rabbits being skinned alive in China, can't bring myself to even look at rabbit fur.

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