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Arts in Review

Haute Stuff: Fur and loathing

Whether you wear the real deal or go faux, there is furry controversy at every turn. The use of the material has the potential to catapult a look to true wintry decadence, and if worn right, is a trend with ancient routes, Golden Age glamour, and modern edge.

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By Leanna Pankratz (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 23, 2011

We’ve all seen the picket lines – the throngs of animal rights activists encamped outside the hallowed halls of Vogue’s New York offices, hurling cream pies at an unassuming, mink-clad Anna Wintour, and shouting such choice tidbits as “fur hag” and “furry devil.” Or how about the protestors bound to show up at any fashion show that dares use a hint of the f-word – often resulting in a somewhat funny scuffle with security. Oh, PETA, what would we do without your antics? Oh, fashion world, what would you do without fur?

Now before someone nails a pelt to my doorstep and gives me a cream pie facial, let me elaborate a little bit. Fur has seemingly always been a part of high fashion, from the days of kingly ermine robes, to the long coats of Golden Age starlets, to recent furry creations by top international couturiers.

The glory days of fur began, obviously, in the lives of our friendly early ancestors, who, by way of necessity, clothed themselves in the pelts of their food. Hardly a fashion statement, by any means, but rather a case of “waste not, want not.” If we’re eating the mammoth, why not wear it, eh?

As civilization progressed, so did the status of fur as a luxury item. An ermine pelt is traditionally only to be worn by British monarchs; and a Canadian beaver top hat in the early 18th century was the ultimate in high fashion.

During the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1940s and 50s, the fox or mink coat and stole were two wardrobe essentials to any woman with status. Actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford set the trend of diamonds and fur, and soon streets were teeming with fox-clad society ladies.

It wasn’t until the swinging 60s, though, that the fur debate really started. Apparently this was the decade for activism, and the animal rights movement went on a rampage against the fashion industry – igniting for the first time a controversial aspect to the wearing of fur.

Today, PETA, along with other organizations, keep the war on fur armed and dangerous, with regular picketing of high profile fashion events and couture shows that audaciously incorporate a little bit of chinchilla.

I must say, however: all this fuss over a fur coat?

There’s a little bit of confusion in this debate, particularly in regards to leather and faux fur. My question is why would one vehemently abhor the idea of wearing leather when they themselves eat what is commonly referred to as cow? If you’re going to eat beef, why not go all the way and wear it? Take a waste not, want not lesson from your ancestors!

My “no to fur” stance (with the exception of leather and those time-tested vintage minks that I’ve hunted down – tres chic!) is primarily one of cost, but also has its roots in humane reasons that I’ve stuck to over the years.

That being said, I’ll get back to trend reporting – but not without a grain of salt. The fur look is enjoying a bit of a heyday right now, with widespread availability of faux furs that are just as soft, and certainly easier on the conscience, than their real counterparts. Vintage furs are also an option, assuming the animal has received due respects after 50-odd years.

Fur is best worn in touches, instead of boots completely covered in fuzziness, a la Colin Stuart’s 2008 shoe line. Opt for a fur lined or accentuated pair. You’ll still get that touch of silky glam, yet your feet won’t look like they were swallowed by a bear. For the everyday keep-warm coat, instead of a full-length fur coat circa-1955, try perhaps a vest or a classy winter pea coat with a faux fur-lined hood or accents.

Whether you wear the real deal or go faux, there is furry controversy at every turn. The use of the material has the potential to catapult a look to true wintry decadence, and if worn right, is a trend with ancient routes, Golden Age glamour, and modern edge.

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