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Twenty years ago if a model had marched down the catwalk clad head to toe in real animal fur there would have been uproar in the front row, particularly in the UK. Back then, choosing to wear fur, on the catwalk, or anywhere else for that matter, would have meant risking a public tongue lashing and likely having a tin of paint thrown over you in protest.
But gradually the fur industry has started clawing its way back into fashion with more designers opting to feature it in its campaigns. Though many refuse to confirm whether it’s real or fake, designers such as Michael Kors, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Jeremy Scott of Moschino are increasingly sending their models down the catwalk clad in the controversial material.
British powerhouse Burberry too goes heavy on fur and has in fact been accused of sourcing it from unethical farms in the past.
Understandably, animal rights and anti-fur activists aren’t happy about this fur revival. In February, a petition was set up on Change.org to get fur banned from London Fashion Week, garnering over 100,000 signatures.
The petition organisers planned to deliver the signatures straight to the British Fashion Council, which stages LFW twice a year with the hope that the ban on fur could come into force at this September’s event.
Ed Winters, who started the petition, is one of the co-founders of animal rights group Surge.
“We are delighted with how well the petition has been received,” Ed told Metro.co.uk.
“This just shows that fur is no longer wanted or even deemed acceptable by the public, and only exists within the realms of an out-of-touch fashion industry that, instead of being forward-thinking, is reluctant to move beyond its outdated transgressions.”
Ed explained that the group held a two-day protest outside the last LFW in September 2016, and did the exact same during last season’s five-day event.
London isn’t the only city to have its fashion week targeted by protesters. In February, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) organised a protest near the Michael Kors Soho store. Members of the animal rights activist group held anti-fur signs and trailed the “Grim Reaper” in protest of the designer’s increased use of fur in his catwalk campaigns. Earlier in the day, Kors proudly paraded an assortment of fur pieces during his runway show.
Speaking about the protest, a PETA spokeswoman said: “Although PETA has contacted the Michael Kors company numerous times in recent years to let him know that minks, foxes, crocodiles and other animals are electrocuted, bludgeoned, and skinned alive, he continues to use fur and exotic skins in his designs.”
The fashion industry is no stranger to anti-fur protests. In the 90s and 2000s, the PETA movement was strong with celebrities and supermodels queuing up to throw their weight behind it. Models posed nude under the famous “We’d rather go naked than wear fur” slogan and activists often threw red paint over front row attendees who dared to wear fur.
It may sound like a lost cause but the faux fur industry is booming. London Fashion Week designer Hannah Weiland has made a point of turning the fake stuff into her signature for her brand Shrimps. And in June, the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group announced that it would no longer sell real fur designs on any of its sites.
The British high street has also offered its support to the cause. Retailers such as Topshop, H&M, River Island, and Marks & Spencer and department stores like Liberty and Selfridges refused to stock real fur.
At the same time, advances in material technology saw a boom in the use of fake fur among mass market retailers and luxury brands alike. The effect was revealed in a 2011 poll which found that 95% of the British public refused to wear real fur. Fur had gone out of fashion.
But gradually it is creeping back in. Thanks to some clever rebranding, labelling itself as ‘ethical’ and ‘luxurious’ and the re-appearance of fur on the catwalks. According to furriers, 70 per cent of runway shows in 2014 featured fur. Hardly surprising therefore that there seems to have been a swing in attitudes about wearing fur, particularly among the younger generation. A 2013 YouGov poll found just 58 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds believed it wrong to use fur compared to 77 per cent of over-55s.
Popular culture has played a role in the shift. These days nobody bats an eyelid when Rihanna, Rita Ora or Lady Gaga steps out draped in mink or chinchilla. Kim Kardashian not only wears it, but swathes her three-year-old daughter North in it, too.
Members of the fur trade maintain that fur is a natural, sustainable material that supports the 117,000 enterprises and one million people that work in the industry worldwide. Fur fans highlight improved standards in the industry and the rise of more humane fur production. Assurances also come via the International Fur Trade Federation’s Origin Assured label which was launched to certify that an item of animal fur bearing that label would have come from one of the 29 countries that had signed up to it and where strict farming regulations were enforced.
But animal rights and anti-fur activists remain adamant that it is a cruel and unethical practice that violently slaughters 50 million animals a year and should be banned.
In the petition that was presented to the BFC, Ed Winters described in detail how fur-farm animals are killed.
“Every year the fur industry is responsible for the death of one billion rabbits and 50million other animals – including foxes, minks, dogs, cats, raccoons, chinchillas, seals and many more,” he wrote.
“Most of these animals are raised in fur farms, intensive facilities where the animals are kept in tiny cages and confined to a life of misery.”
He goes on to say that the common methods of killing animals in fur farms is anal electrocution, gassing, poisoning or stomping on the animals and breaking their necks.
In response to the petition for the banning of for at LFW, the British Fashion Council told Metro.co.uk: “The British Fashion Council does not dictate what designers can or cannot design and has no control over their creative process. We actively encourage designers to look at best practice in their business and if they do chose to use fur then we encourage them to make ethical choices.”
So it seems the debate about whether fur has a place in fashion is set to continue. Whether you’re for or against seeing the wearing of fur banned at LFW, or you think it’s down to the individual to decide, a return to runways clad in fur feels a little like stepping back in time. The fashion industry is one of the most creative and forward-thinking in the world, it is about moving forward and bringing innovative and cutting-edge designs, and more importantly sustainable materials to the forefront. And something that was worn by our cavemen ancestors could hardly be described as that.
Should fur be banned from LFW? Let us know what you think at @YahooStyleUK.
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