Cruel couture

As a child of the ’80s, I remember the days when fur was a formidable fashion faux pas. Stepping out into the streets in a floor-length mink was an open invitation to having a can of red paint chucked at you. Models and celebs participated in splashy, sexy anti-fur campaigns. It seemed the sartorially inclined masses were filled with compassion for our furry friends … or was it just the latest bandwagon to board?

Sadly, it seems as though the latter proved to be true, as fur is now making a huge comeback.

During New York’s Fashion Week, fur was everywhere — a trend that was heavily reflected a week later in London’s version of the event. Fur has also experienced a tremendous resurgence on the catwalks of Paris and Milan, and is more popular than ever in Japan, Russia and Germany. Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art put together Wild: Fashion Untamed, a historical retrospective of our use of animals, pelts, skins and feathers in fashion. The exhibit was primarily sponsored by Roberto Cavalli, an Italian designer who makes heavy use of fur.

The controversial, in-yo-face animal activist group, PETA (, has been none too pleased about the resurgence of fashionable fur — but the straw that broke the camel-hair cardigan came from none other than Miss Publicity herself, Jennifer Lopez. When J. Lo recently unveiled “Sweetface,” the latest collection of her own clothing line, it was rich in fur, to the point of sheer absurdity: mink shorts, for example.

PETA naturally flipped its collective lid — and then went straight for the jugular. Lopez’s new line was announced at the same time PETA obtained some shocking undercover footage from a fur farm in China. So PETA threw together, along with the catchy phrase “Say Hell No to J. Lo” and the video of the fur farm investigation.

I started watching it, and couldn’t even make it halfway through. To say the footage is horrifyingly graphic is an understatement. It shows fox dogs picked up by the tail and slammed into the ground, their heads stomped on or crushed with a blunt instrument. When they are strung upside down to be skinned, some are still alive. As one worker draws a deep incision and begins peeling away the fur, the still-conscious animal flails desperately while the worker continues, unaffected. The camera then pans to a pile of discarded, skinned bodies. One animal is still alive, breathing in ragged gasps — bloodied and completely stripped of its fur, the skinned dog lifts its head weakly, and stares into the camera for a few heart-wrenching seconds before collapsing.

Watching, I nearly threw up — and then I couldn’t stop shaking. It’s been eating away at me ever since.

“There’s no way to put a pretty face on an animal being skinned alive,” says Lisa Franzetta, campaign coordinator for PETA. “Sometimes it takes people being shocked to shock them out of their complacency.”

Franzetta says over the years PETA has repeatedly written the pelt-lovin’ Lopez — who once wore eyelashes made of fur — to change her ways. The clothing line was the last straw, and now it appears PETA has declared war on the “heartless diva,” as Franzetta refers to her.

“I think what PETA’s doing with the J. Lo campaign is pretty interesting,” says Cat Clyne, editor in chief of Satya magazine, a publication for animal activists. “They’re trying to shame one of the biggest celebrities in our culture into having a heart.”

But perhaps the bigger question is, why did Lopez not blink a mink-lashed eye at releasing a fur-heavy line? Why are designers now flocking to pelts in droves? Why are hipsters proudly sporting fox-trimmed boots and vintage rabbit fur jackets? What social morals in our culture have shifted, to make this once profoundly taboo trade acceptable again?

Both Clyne and Franzetta think it’s the result of a very calculated move on the part of the fur industry.

“They weren’t going to take the ’80s lying down,” Clyne says. She says fur proprietors went underground during the ’90s, worked to entice new young designers into working with fur, and threw their collective weight into print ads and advertorials.

“And we’re seeing the multiple fruits of that now,” Clyne says.

And perhaps fake fur is an inadvertent culprit. In response to the no-fur era, fake fur became all the rage, showing up on everything from pant hems to throw pillows. We become accustomed to the look of it.

“The fur industry is attempting to market itself in a different way,” Franzetta says. “We’re seeing a lot more fur trim on boots, bags and accessories. It’s much more subtle than the old full-mink coat. And they’re weaving fur and dyeing it bright colors, styling it so it looks fake. They’re trying to distance the fur from the animal that was killed for it.”

Vintage fur is more popular than ever in young hip circles; it’s often deemed as more socially acceptable, because it doesn’t support the current fur industry.

“Just because the animal died 50 years ago doesn’t mean it didn’t suffer,” Franzetta says. “Vintage fur still promotes the idea that animals are ours to use as fabric.”

I must admit, I used the same logic in justifying the vintage fur I found for $20 in high school, but I’ve since changed my tune. And to avoid being hypocritical, I’m also re-evaluating the other animal derivatives in my wardrobe, namely, wool, leather and feathers.

I simply threw my fur away, but there are apparently more beneficial avenues: The Humane Society takes donated furs and uses them to help raise abandoned wildlife, the coats serving as a sort of stand-in mommy. To learn more, go to and search for “fur coats.” PETA also accepts fur donations, and gives them to the homeless.

This issue clearly opens up a huge can of worms, but the simple fact remains: Fur is a vanity item, one made at the expense of animal lives. And I still simply can’t wrap my mind around why someone would want to wear it, especially when so many synthetic alternatives are available.

Personally, I’m annoyed by people who go barging up to a fur-cloaked woman in public and begin verbally assaulting her — you’re not going to change minds by doing this, you’re just going to piss someone off.

However, I’d like to find one person out there who can watch that entire PETA video from start to finish, and still slip into a fur coat. I can’t imagine anyone remotely human would be able to do so.

Sarah Klein is culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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