Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Very Furry Dilemma

One of my earliest memories is of my parents, my sister, and I going Christmas shopping in Union Square in San Francisco. The Christmas tree was up, lights hung on the trees and lamp posts outside, and all the department stores had the most beautiful winter displays, brightly lit in the front windows. Also in front of the stores however, especially in front of Neiman Marcus, were PETA protestors, waving signs with pictures of bloody animals trapped in cages, who were shouting at customers not to patronize stores that sell fur. At the time, my young idealism was fully intact, and I would often go up to the protestors to take a flier. I remember my mom grabbing my hand once and whispering in my ear, “Just keep walking, sometimes they throw blood on people!” This fact startled me and seemed unusually cruel to do at Christmastime, but nonetheless, these people were advocating for cute, furry animals who could not advocate for themselves and that made them alright with me. I was totally on their side.
Flash forward 15 years, I am shopping in Neiman Marcus with a friend. I’ve come down with a severe case of fashion fever which has not let up for three years now, and Neiman’s is now a mecca of all things holy and good. I walked straight up to one of the fur coats and felt it, commenting on how soft it was. A saleswoman approached me, smiled and said, “My, you have good taste. That is one of our finest Sable coats. The absolute best.” I glanced at the price tag – $45,000. I believed her. “It is extraordinary,” I said, “It’s a pity I don’t have a pile of money just laying around.”
As I walked out of the store, I couldn’t help but think how disappointed ‘young me’ would have been to watch ‘modern me’ chatting with a sales woman while caressing a dead animal. This controversy over fur is still being contemplated delicately in my mind, but in the outside world it’s more of a raging battle between PETA and its supporters and the International Fur Federation and the fashion houses using their product.
To quote an IFF advertisement in WWD, “unanimity may be in short supply among world leaders these days, but there’s virtually no disagreement among the world’s top designers when it comes to fur. In short, the consensus is that fur is fabulous.” Last season, many designers opted to use fur in their collections, including Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Fendi, and Armani. Armani even took some heat from PETA, because he promised to abstain from using fur in his collections after the organization presented him with “the facts.” Although he called his decision ‘limiting,’ he said that he would abide by his promise. When the Armani Privé collection showed, however, the collection “included fur-trimmed skirts and coats, as well as jackets and even snowsuits for toddlers trimmed with rabbit fur,” according to a PETA ad (aptly captioned Pinocchio Armani). The organization then begged that celebrities attending the Oscars leave their Armani at home for the big night. Ultimately though, fashion designers keep going back to fur, calling it a “versatile and timeless” material, which has been used in the creation of clothing for hundred of years. So why not keep using it?
Many fashion houses such as Gucci and Fendi say they will indeed keep fur as an integral part of their collections, but many designers, such as Ralph Lauren and Stella McCartney, have shunned its use altogether. They have seen pictures of the cruelty and violence which takes place in the “fur farms” where mink and foxes are raised only to be electrocuted or drown so that their precious furs stay intact for a much longer life on the back of some wealthy socialite. Stella McCarteny goes even further and refuses to use leather as well (stated in her contract) and she even narrated a PETA video exposé about a United States fur farm. Model Janice Dickinson (who is said to be a little “old school” in her ideas about size and beauty) also got behind the anti-fur movement, leading a PETA campaign whose slogan read, “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” It seems that rejecting fur isn’t unfashionable after all.
Ultimately, whether to wear fur or not boils down to a personal choice. Some find it to be the epitome of decadence and glamour; others find it repulsive, unnecessary and brutal. Some people, like myself, are stuck somewhere in between. And it’s hard to avoid hypocrisy. Charlize Theron came out with an anti-fur ad for PETA, and then became the new spokesmodel for a Dior campaign, a fashion house which used fur in its last collections. I present this example not to pick on Charlize, but simply to emphasize the fact that we can all find ourselves on different parts of the moral spectrum for different issues, and that for some of us, fur is just another one of those gray areas.