What’s going on with fashion and fur? You’d think it was an easy question to answer. With various legal bans and big-name brands having promised to divest, surely the phase-out of animal furs from fashion is well under way – moving at pace in only one direction.
But, somehow, for some reason, regardless of whether it should be, the actual answer isn’t that simple.
Take Gucci for instance: here’s a fashion house with what looks to be an unequivocal ban on fur. The brand made a commitment to dropping fur back in 2017, as well as the use of Angora, and has been a member of the Fur Free Alliance ever since – a move which earned them a great deal of positive press. And the obligation doesn’t just come from inside – it also comes from above; a clear directive from Gucci’s parent company, Kering, which also owns mega-brands Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, which pledged to ban the use of fur across all its labels in 2021.
And yet, despite this, the Italian house last month released a collection that included rabbit fur – or felt, or whatever you want to call it; a strangely perverse choice, ostensibly designed to celebrate the New Year of the Rabbit but not much of a party for the rabbit itself. (That live rabbits were used in the marketing campaign for this collection, too, feels more than a little sick in context.)
So, back to the multi-billion-dollar question: what is going on?
The most generous answer is that this was a mistake. Possible, sure – after all the House of Gucci has many rooms and a lot of closed doors – but still improbable at best. In commenting on this unlikely mishap, Don-Alvin Adegeest at Fashion United wrote that, “What baffles is the long chain of command from conception to production where there was not a single flag to object to having rabbit fur,” and in pointing this out the writer underlines the ridiculousness of that argument. “From the designers who chose the fabrics, to the production team placing material orders, to the folks overseeing the factories and sewing… And then the marketing team that ok-ed the Year of the Rabbit campaign who did not notice the furry hat contained real rabbit, nor the sales staff who work in Gucci’s stores, the very retail operators that said [they] would no longer carry fur… Doesn’t anyone read the label?”
Another good question. Rhetorical and more than a little sarcastic, but relevant nonetheless.
It’s worth noting here that Gucci pulled the offending articles – in this case, hats and bags labeled as being made from 100% rabbit felt – fairly quickly. In fact, the items were removed from its shelves – because, yes, as a time-sensitive collection it had already been rolled out to retailers rather than trailed on a long lead system like regular collections – within a matter of days.
In this sense, Gucci’s speed spoke volumes. But so did the brand’s silence.
To this day, no official statement has been release about the disappearance of those rabbit felt items – no explanation of how this happened – only early denials of wrongdoing and attempts at obfuscation: as Sadie Bargeron at Jing Daily noted, “Prior to taking the products off shelves, Gucci initially argued that rabbit felt is not classed as fur, seeing as the animal skin is not actually attached to it,” quantifying this what we all know to be true, adding, “[T]he production of felt is generally linked to unethical or cruel treatment of animals.”
What Bargeron alludes to here – and what Gucci themselves more or less admit to – is that promises can be broken and rules can be bent; that fashion will always dedicate more time to finding a loophole, contorting itself to slither through, than it will to finding solutions.
And maybe there’s a reason for that. Fashion, after all, loves the publicity that comes with doing good – or looking like it’s doing good, at least. But it also loves controversy and courting taboo. There are few other industries where the old adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is quite so heartily embraced.
Take the recent uproar regarding Schiaparelli’s ultra-realistic animal heads: at Paris Fashion Week, the label showed a collection which leant heavily on the illusion they were doing something cruel, something grotesque and violent, as a mode of publicity. And, of course, it worked.
Burberry pledged to go fur free in 2018 and – so far as anyone knows – has kept that promise. Yet, at the reveal of its Fall/Winter 2023 collection in London this week – the first for its new Creative Director, former Bottega Veneta head Daniel Lee – several looks contained faux fox so realistic it had people people across social media questioning whether the brand had rowed back on its commitment.
They hadn’t of course – but, in the same vein as the Schiaparelli collection, the inference was enough to prove one thing: fashion loves fur and, in struggling with the idea of parting ways, would rather replicate that sensation and sensationalism than lose it altogether.
Perhaps more than that, though, the industry still sees fur as the ultimate luxury; still sees cruelty as the height of sophistication.
It’s a strange hill to die on, or for anything to die on, when – according to the 2022 report by the Material Innovation Initiative – the low number of next-gen materials companies working on exotic skin alternatives and fur have remained steadfastly at the bottom of the pile while other areas like silk and wool have continued to expand. And what that says, even just in terms of basic supply and demand, is that people aren’t clamouring to have their fur replaced: that, even as the real deal slowly fades out of circulation, with commitments from brands and legislation such as the recent ban passed in California, it isn’t a priority for consumers.
As attitudes change, the idea of fur as not just taboo but something morally incomparable with modern sensibilities becomes more and more ingrained: hyperrealistic faux fur doesn’t have consumers or the commentariat cheering, but incites condemnation. The implication is that, if fur is wrong, then wanting to allude to fur is – if not as cruel, though notably rarely made from sustainable materials and damaging in its own way – also wrong. It says “I would if I could.” It shows a certain kind of reverence – not for the animal, but for the product.
It isn’t just the labels which aren’t being read, it seems, but also the writing on the wall. Writing that says, “Fur is over.” Writing that says, “Time to move on.”