Bright, hip styles and chilly temps fuel its return to favor, but animal activists cry foul
By SHELLEY EMLING
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
WILLIAM BERRY / Staff
New York -- Jennifer Lopez is wearing it. So is Madonna. Supermodel Naomi Campbell once swore she'd never wear it, but even she has swapped sides.
Fur. Whether it's falling to the floor, wrapped around one's neck, or lining a trendy denim jacket, fur is making a comeback, say fashion experts.
Last year more than 300 designers -- many of whom had deserted fur only a few years ago -- included it in their fall collections.
It's enough to make the animal-rights activists who were so successful at quashing sales in the 1990s jump out of their skin.
"It's not just a matter of seeing thousands of mink coats on the street," said Keith Kaplan, executive director of the Fur Information Council of America. "Today you're finding furs in trendy styles from hip-hop to hippie chic."
Fur sales totaled $1.53 billion in 2001, and the figures for 2002 are expected to be up by 8 to 10 percent, according to the council, which represents manufacturers and retailers nationwide.
The year 2000 was particularly strong, boasting sales of $1.69 billion, a sharp climb from $1 billion in 1991.
The council blames the dip in 2001 on the economy, the terrorist attacks, and an unseasonably warm winter.
But this winter is a different story.
At Neiman Marcus, fur sales are showing double-digit growth this year over last year, said the store's fashion director, Joan Kaner.
The freezing temperatures that have gripped much of the nation have added momentum to sales.
But the trend also has been fueled by the industry's burgeoning efforts to be more creative in order to appeal to a broader -- and especially younger -- clientele.
Today's furs are sheared, splashed with all sorts of colors, and featured as embellishments on a wide array of products. There are fur cuffs, fur pillows, and fur scarves. There's fur dyed in brilliant purples and yellows. There's fur used as trim on handbags.
In general, retailers say fur is no longer just associated with luxury, but with bohemian styles popular with today's youth.
"Fur today weighs about half of what it did a decade ago, but it has the same warmth and durability aspects," said Kaplan of the Fur Information Council. "Fur is being used in all sorts of casual ways so that it's crossing demographic segments like never before."
The trend also has been helped by celebrities who no longer seem to mind being photographed in fur.
In the mid-1990s, supermodels Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell appeared in the hugely successful "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" advertisements sponsored by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. Based in Norfolk, Va., PETA is the nation's largest animal-rights group.
But protests these days aren't drawing the kinds of crowds they once did, so stars such as Cuba Gooding Jr. are able to don fur without making much of a stink.
Even one of the world's most famous faces, Gisele Bundchen, has agreed to be a model for mink coat company Blackglama.
That's not to say animal groups are in hibernation.
In November, a handful of activists held up signs reading "Gisele: Fur Scum" as the model strolled the runway in a Victoria's Secret fashion show.
And animal groups continue to recruit new celebrities for their cause. Goran Visnjic, star of NBC's "ER," recently posed with his dog, Bugsy, in an ad produced by PETA in its first campaign aimed at Eastern Europe. The slogan: "If you wouldn't wear your dog, please don't wear any fur."
The Fund for Animals, a Washington group, recently launched a radio ad campaign featuring Wendie Malick of "Just Shoot Me" telling consumers that compassion is the new fashion.
"We believe fur is becoming less and less popular and that the fur trade is playing around with the numbers to make sales figures appear higher," said Lisa Franzetta, PETA's campaign coordinator.
She said the cost of storing fur coats in temperature-controlled facilities is being included in sales totals, a charge denied by the fur industry.
Franzetta said an increasing number of designers such as Stella McCartney are using faux fur, so that it might appear that more people on the streets are wearing real fur when in actuality they're not.
"We believe people are still apprehensive about going outside with a bunch of corpses hanging off their backs," she said.
But fashion experts claim that the message of animal-rights groups has been diluted as PETA and others start focusing more attention on other campaigns. In early January, for example, PETA called for a worldwide boycott of KFC due to alleged animal-rights abuses by the chicken chain, particularly the way it raises its chickens.
But activists say they're as focused on fur as ever.
"Fur remains one of our major campaigns, even though we target any industry that causes massive suffering," said Franzetta, who emphasized PETA's growing membership of 750,000 worldwide.
Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals, said the fur industry is trying to make everyone believe sales are up by putting a lot of effort into selling items like parkas with fur trim.
He said the industry also hopes to dupe people into believing the fur they're buying is fake.
"They are having fur dyed in different colors, or they are shearing it, as part of an effort to disguise the fact that fur actually comes from dead animals," he said.
Markarian pointed to a federal law that doesn't require labeling on fur garments valued at less than $150.
"If there's some fur on the cuffs of a jacket, for example, people have no way of knowing that the fur comes from a fox that was gassed, or electrocuted, or had its neck broken specifically so that it could be used for trim," he said. "People would be concerned if they knew what they were buying."
But Kaplan said the fur industry is environmentally friendly.
"Much of the rhetoric of PETA and other groups is based on fiction," he said. "Our industry is committed to the humane treatment of animals."
[ YOUR TURN
What do you think about wearing fur?
I love it and wear it all the time. 44% 7182
I never have, but might start now. 3% 561
I would, but I'm afraid someone would throw paint on me. 0% 53
The morality doesn't bother me, but it looks tacky. 1% 93
It's cruel and inhumane. 25% 4174
I'd freeze to death before I'd wear it. 26% 4323
Total Votes 16386
This survey is not a scientific sampling and does not reflect the opinion of the general public, but only of those who choose to participate.]
[Bildunterschrift] A white mink coat from Helen Frushtick Furs is trimmed with fox. More designers have embraced fur recently, targeting a younger clientele.
[ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 2/6/03 ]