Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2017 Issue of Fringe Magazine
While walking through the bursting Magazine Street Antique Mall, I came across a coat hanging by some old maps, slightly browned photos, and dazzlingly jeweled clutches. The cut of the coat was impeccable and the color intriguing. Quite obviously, I had to feel the material. I reached out to stroke it, felt the soft brush against my fingers, and recoiled. Fast. It was real. The fur was real. I was touching it and the fur was real. This was not good. What then catapulted into my mind was that I could not be seen near the fur. I scooted to the clutches and pretended to gaze down at them. In doing this, my eyes scanned across the mules on my feet. Then scanned back. The mules were leather. Oh, no. Caught between the mules and the coat I began to wonder, how exactly could I feel no shame in wearing leather shoes, but run from a fur garment? No answers arrived. I left with an old atlas and the fur still on my mind.
This was something that I had never stopped to ponder, and that most of us don’t. While leather rides along on the majority of feet from day to day, when one dares to don a fur pelt, the scrutiny and judgement runs rampant. As Pamela Erens described in an essay for Elle.com, “…almost none of the people who comment on my fur wearing eschew meat or leather.” Both materials are purposeful; one to cover and the other to warm. There must be a reason, if not a multitude of reasons, that of both utilitarian textiles, one receives a general reaction of absolute revulsion, while the other only receives revulsion from PETA members. As neither the leather nor fur industry is completely ethical in its practices (frankly no single company or industry ever is); then from where does this general obsession with fur as a specifically immoral material spring?
The topic of fur is a strange junction where fashion, history, money, and morality tangle into an indistinguishable mass. Fur’s interesting connection not only to wealth, but to wealthy fashion contributes to the general public’s fur repulsion. A large fur coat seems to belong only on the back of a woman of Park Avenue wealth and stature or in the Fendi ready-to-wear presentation. Ken Downing, the Senior VP and Fashion Director at Neiman Marcus, put it best, “She doesn’t wear fur because she is cold, she wears fur because she is glamorous.” As it crosses into the realm of wealth, fashion leaves its role as a form of art and enters luxury. It is this idea that is the sticking point with fur as it relates to fashion. The fur resentment may run deeper than the pelt itself and more towards the display of spending power by those encased in it.
Whatever may cause the vilification of fur and the nonchalance surrounding leather, it is a disparity that must be discussed within the fashion industry, judgement withheld. The conversation distills down to the question of what we are willing to sacrifice for our own sartorial desires. Is it the animals whose hides and pelts we wear? The animals whose hides we wear, but at whose pelts we balk? The garment workers in Bangladesh? The environment? This ethical conclusion is not one to which the fashion zeitgeist must come, but for each person who participates within it to individually work towards. I know I will.