This is an opinion piece adapted from an article I wrote for MailOnline in February 2015
There is no doubt about it: fur was back with a vengeance at this season’s Fashion Week, both on the runway and unapologetically smothering the front row.
For every big-name designer who has banned fur from their collections – Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Vivienne Westwood, to name a few – there seem to be ten more trimming their every garment with it. The designers behind up-and-coming label Cushnie Et Ochs, for example, just declared it their ‘favorite’ element of the season, boasting they were ‘not ashamed’.
So in an age where ‘ethical living’ is applauded, veganism is trending, pet ownership in the U.S. has tripled since the 70s and cute animal videos dominate the internet – will proudly draping ourselves with dead foxes in the manner of Kim Kardashian ever go out of style?
I should say up front – since this often comes up – that as someone who abhors fur, I am also a vegan. No, I don’t eat meat, and no, I don’t wear leather. This wasn’t always so. I changed my ways about two years ago, and here’s why.
Kim found herself in hot water with animal rights charity PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) last month, after she dressed her one-year-old daughter North West in what was thought to be a $3,500 crystal fox fur coat at New York Fashion Week. Was she wrong to do so?
‘Kids are naturally drawn to animals and sympathetic to their plight,’ PETA’s senior vice president Lisa Lange told Daily Mail Online, slamming the reality star’s decision to impose her fur fetish on a child.
“Comfy? Warm? The very idea leaves me cold” – Stella McCartney
Speaking to Mail on Sunday columnist Liz Jones, anti-fur designer Stella McCartney once said: ‘I just don’t understand why these beautiful creatures have to die for someone’s coat.
‘It is both medieval and barbaric, and I think there are plenty of alternatives out there. Comfy? Warm? The very idea leaves me cold.’
Before we embark on fur’s major comeback – after several decades of it being something of a taboo, thanks in large to PETA’s aggressive campaigning – a few important facts.
More than 75 million animals are killed each year for their pelts. Eighty-five per cent of those are raised on fur factory farms, most of them in China and Russia, where there are no animal welfare regulations at all.
Foxes, mink, grey wolves and raccoons are bred and stacked in wire cages too small for them to turn around, and kept alive – barely – for seven months until fully-grown.
In China, more than two million of these animals annually are dogs and cats. You probably didn’t know that.
These creatures are then either anally electrocuted (to protect the fur from scorching) or skinned, sometimes alive.
It’s too expensive to humanely kill such a high volume of animals, and their suffering doesn’t matter anyway. Not to the factory workers, not to the designers who buy it, and not to you either, if you choose to wear it.
Karl Lagerfeld – who was at the forefront of the fur-heavy movement at this season’s Fashion Week with his designs for Chanel, Fendi and his namesake label – spoke for many last week when he told The New York Times: ‘For me, as long as people eat meat and wear leather, I don’t get the message.’
The infamous design mogul is so pro-fur this year, he’s holding a ‘haute fourrure’, or ‘couture fur’ runway show this July at Fendi’s couture shows in Paris to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary.
“You see a carcass, I see a museum pièce de résistance” – Lady Gaga
Mr Lagerfeld, who treasures his cat Choupette so much he can hardly bear to be parted from her, went on to explain how he reconciles himself with the cruelty aspect of the fur trade.
‘I’m very sympathetic,’ he said. ‘I hate the idea of killing animals in a horrible way… It’s horrible, no? So I prefer not to know it.’
He has a point of course.
But the day I forced myself, as a lifelong animal lover, to watch Earthlings, Joaquin Phoenix’s 2005 landmark documentary about the atrocities of the meat, leather and fur industries, was the day I gave it all up.
I don’t eat animals, I don’t wear them and I don’t use products that have been tested on them, because having seen undercover footage of what these creatures go through, I can tell you that it’s all equally as barbaric.
But let’s stay with fur for now. Abolishing animal fur seems more achievable than abolishing meat, and that is a good enough reason to try.
“I hate the idea of killing animals in a horrible way… It’s horrible, no? So I prefer not to know it” – Karl Lagerfeld
In the late 90s, Stella McCartney distributed a graphic, self-narrated PETA video exposing fur farms among her fellow designers at Fashion Week, pleading with them to eschew it.
‘Frankly, I don’t think most designers have the balls to watch animals writhing and being slaughtered,’ she said of the video, remarking that Mr Lagerfeld, for one, sent his copy back unwatched.
‘They don’t want to admit they’re responsible for such suffering.’
But PETA, along with Stella – whose Beatles father Paul McCartney once uttered the immortal phrase, ‘If slaughter houses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians’ – did score some victories.
Vivienne Westwood, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Betsey Johnson and Ralph Lauren all banned fur from their collections after seeing the video, and have kept their word ever since.
As for the high street, Abercrombie and Fitch, J.Crew, Topshop, H&M, Zara and Urban Outfitters all refuse to use it, among others.
Notable celebrities who strictly avoid fur include, but are not limited to; Natalie Portman, Abbie Cornish, Jessica Chastain, Sia, Charlize Theron, Pamela Anderson, Pink, Kesha, and Ellen DeGeneres.
‘I used to wear real fur,’ lifestyle guru Martha Stewart once said. ‘Like many others, I had a change of heart when I learned what actually happens to the animals.’
But the industry is fickle.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell, who once posed for PETA’s infamous ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ campaign, then went on to become the face of fur couturier Dennis Basso in 2010.
Lady Gaga, who also once spoke out against fur, did a very public 360 when in 2012 she declared that she ‘admired’ the beauty of animals in fashion, stating: ‘You see a carcass, I see a museum pièce de résistance.’
Speaking about other people’s desire to wear beautiful animals, or mount their heads on their walls, comedienne and staunch vegan Ellen DeGeneres later quipped: ‘I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her.’
We all live our lives according to double standards, and we are all hypocrites, a lot of the time.
But if you are on the fence about fur, it need only take 5 minutes and 20 seconds for you to jump off it, whichever side you choose to land.
It’s this simple. Watch Ms McCartney’s video.
If you refuse to watch it because you don’t care, then that is fair enough. Not everyone cares about animals, and I genuinely take no issue with that.
If you refuse to watch it because you know it will upset you, then you already know your moral stance on fur. Donate what you have to charity, don’t buy any more, and spare yourself the horror of the footage.
And if you do watch it, I guarantee it will shock you so deeply that you will never lust after the precious fur of a sentient being again.
Because nothing, not even your love of fashion, is worth the systematic torture you will see; and no creature, not even a lowly raccoon, deserves to endure it.