Miuccia Prada, the most intellectual of fashion designers, announced last week that her Italian-based label would be fur-free as of Spring/Summer 2020.
This marks a tipping point for the fashion industry, proving that the revitalized anti-fur movement has made significant inroads. Prada’s action will give it major momentum: At 70, she has emerged as a senior stateswoman in the industry, designing thoughtful luxury for grown-ups.
Fur bans have been on a hot streak since Alessandro Michele banned the stuff at Gucci in late 2017 — he simply decreed it “not modern” and likened it to giving up cigarettes. The zeitgeist master is indeed well attuned to the values of his millennial clientele.
After Gucci, a wave of designer labels swore off the stuff: Versace , Martin Margiela by John Galliano, Michael Kors , Diane von Furstenberg , Coach and Jean Paul Gaultier. Online retailers Net-a-Porter and Farfetch have committed to not sell fur. And entire cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City, are at varying stages of debate over imposing a ban on fur sales.
This flurry of activity is all the more notable for the fact that as recently as 2015, The New York Times declared “fur is back,” as replicas of YSL’s famous 1971 coloured fur chubby flooded runways (and faux-fur replicas brought knockoffs of the look to fast fashion). Bags and shoes everywhere were sporting furry trims and poms.
This whiplash may be due to a shift in protest tactics. Anti-fur activism used to be about bringing fear of violent reprisal to the streets and runways. Throughout the late ’80s and much of the ’90s, a mobilized force of protestors armed themselves with tins of red paint. Tom Ford had an anti-fur protester reach into her purse — he thought she was pulling a gun — and dress him up with tomato juice like a Bloody Mary.
Kim Kardashian-West (once an unrepentant fur fan who has also recently announced her “new thing” is faux fur after she was called a “fur hag” in her comments one too many times), had a bag of flour poured over her head at a fragrance launch.
Vogue honcho Anna Wintour has been the target of several attacks, including the memorable time a protester dropped a dead raccoon on her plate at New York’s schmancy Four Seasons restaurant.
She was reportedly nonplussed, her signature emotion. PETA forces invaded Calvin Klein’s offices in 1994, spraying the walls with “Kills Animals” and “Murderers.” Shaken, Klein became the one of the first high profile designer labels to shun fur that same year.
The ’90s also saw PETA’s nude billboard strategy, in which supermodels stripped down to be wrapped in the slogan “I’d rather be naked than wear fur.
” In the current era, where we are hyper aware of exploitation of women, that approach no longer feels modern, either, and has fallen out of fashion.
Protestors have found a much more effective tool than cans of paint or nude supermodels: their keyboards. Over a sustained period of months, Prada herself, her staff and her label were targeted through social media comments and thousands of emails by the group Fur Free Alliance, a coalition of approximately 40 animal rights groups. After consultation and consideration, the company cited “shifting consumer attitudes and low demand” for its decision to drop all fur products.
The brand had already stopped showing fur on the runway.
In the past, as recently as Fall 2017 (see the shaggy fur coats and boots in the image above) and most notably circa fall 2011, Prada has had some big-hit looks with fur flapper coats and gigantic colourful stoles. And while there isn’t much money at stake for the brand in taking this stance (only 0.2 per cent of Gucci’s sales were in fur at the time of its ban; Prada’s percentage is likely similar), there is a lot to be gained, marketing-wise.
Of course, the announcement was made via Instagram.
Prada’s decision is significant because Miuccia is a thought-leader in the industry: Besides holding a PhD in political history (and, curiously, having spent a period studying mime) she has turned our entire notion of traditional beauty on its head. Throughout her career, she has dismissed traditional style conventions as “bourgeois.” She taught us to smash old against new, to mix beautiful and ugly.
She upended our sense of what luxury even is. And she has screwed around with cultural touchstones and signifiers, which is her artist’s way of using fashion to reveal a new form of style democracy. Note that she was born into a wealthy Italian leather-goods family and experimented with socialism (fashionable among her peers) before building a capitalist empire out of her first hit idea, a crisp and modern nylon backpack.
This is all to underscore that Miuccia getting on any bandwagon is big news.
But there is a gap between perception and reality here. Fur sales, a more than $40 billion industry worldwide, are actually on the increase. According to the Fur Information Council of America , the number of designers using fur in the U.S.
increased from 42 in 1985 to more than 500 today. And, counterintuitively, 55 per cent of fur shoppers are under the age of 44. Fur doesn’t have to mean a full-length mink — it can also refer to tassels on a key-chain, or trim on a purse.
The fur lobby is now repositioning from promoting fur as a signifier of luxury to fur as a biodegradable natural product. There is much talk about the cost of faux fur to the environment, that it won’t break down for millennia and releases microplastics into the water supply when it’s washed.
The relative environmental impact of real fur versus faux fur is hard to compare: there are no persuasive, unbiased studies as yet.
There is another ethical morass brewing over the banning of exotic skins (Chanel and Victoria Beckham both announced this move in February). There was blow back on this, related to the argument that halting their sustainable production might hamper conservation efforts for those species, as well as harm Indigenous communities who depend on the harvesting of exotic skins for their livelihoods.
Beyond that, some designers have chosen to use only the byproducts of food production in their designs (leather and shearling can qualify), including Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, who recently became a vegan.
Then there is Stella McCartney, of course, a legacy vegetarian like her famous parents, who has steadfastly shunned not just fur but all leather and animal products.
But fur in particular inspires inflammatory reactions set on a hair trigger. In New York, Hasidic rabbis and Black pastors appeared at city council meetings to protest the proposed citywide fur sales ban.
The rabbis expressed concern the ban would affect Hasidic men, who wear fur hats on the Sabbath and therefore could be subject to racist taunts. The pastors argued the ban would denigrate a traditional hallmark of success among New-York-based African Americans.
Because with an issue as divisive as fur, someone is always offended.
This trio helped the world see how cool Canadian fashion can be
Kate Middleton wore two family heirlooms to the state dinner
12 Pride fashion collections that give back
Leanne Delap is a Toronto-based freelance contributor for the Star and The Kit.
Reach her via email: email@example.com