The controversial relationship between fashion and fur has been generations in the making.
Like many other trends, fur has enjoyed a rollercoaster ride in popularity, from the peace-loving, animal-friendly hippy years to the fashion-forward, high-society wannabe ’80s.
But we may be coming to a time where we get to have our cake and eat it too.
And the secret lies in – believe it or not – fakes.
According to Rachel Matthews, who has been working as a professional stylist for the last 10 years, fur is very in this season.
“This season is all about texture, and there’s a lot of faux-fur on the market,” she says. “I love faux-fur scarves and faux-fur collars, because they can transform the most dull jacket, or coat, or even a sweater, into something really really interesting. And they’re really readily available, like H&M has loads of them, and they’re really affordable.”
For Matthews, whose home country of England has long disapproved of wearing authentic animal pelts, the combination of technology in the creation of these synthetic replicas and cyclical fashion is making faux-fur a must-have this season.
“There’s a lot more acceptance of faux-fur because it really does look that much better than when we first saw faux-fur years and years ago,” she says. “It’s like polyester, you know, polyester in the ’70s used to be a dirty word, because it was ghastly. You know, you look at polyester then and polyester now, and sometimes you’re hard-pressed to tell the difference between polyester and silk these days.”
You don’t have to tell George Kallinikos, whose family has been in the fur business for the past 40 years, that the demand in authentic furs is changing.
“There was a huge demand for it in the ’70s and ’80s,” he says. “That seems to have died down in the past decade or so.
But Kallinikos is confident the appeal of fur is timeless.
“Customers enjoy fur because it keeps you warm in the freezing winters that we have, and it’s fashionable,” he says.
Matthews agrees weather is part of what is making this look so popular in Canada.
“There’s a lot of fur influence in colder climates. I think culturally we accept [this look] here,” she says.
“Animals are seen to be raised to provide food, raised to provide fur.”
Though Kallinikos’ business has been running steadily for many years, he admits he has experience his share of negative feedback from anti-fur activists.
“There have been people who have threatened to throw red paint on our coats,” he says. “People who I went to school with and never had an issue with all of a sudden weren’t so friendly when they found out what my parents did.”
While Jo-Anne McArthur, who has been involved in animal activism for the last decade and who hopes to publish her book on the subject by 2010, agrees with the anti-fur sentiment, she disagrees with the method.
“Attacking never ever works,” she says. “When you attack someone, you’re putting yourself above them, and I really don’t think anyone has the right to talk down to anyone else.”
She says a large problem with getting a dialogue going on the subject is that proponents of either side often resort to extreme means, which tend to get the message lost.
“Usually there’s just a lot of yelling on the sidewalks and stuff, and people shut down when there are people with banners who are waving them in their faces, and people don’t respond well to that stuff,” she says. “You don’t get through to people when you attack them.”
Instead, McArthur says she thinks her approach of approaching individuals as individuals, and opening a conversation rather than pushing a point, is the right way to get the message out there.
“You just talk to them,” she says. “It’s about talking to people and providing them with information in a very non-confrontational way.
“People don’t know how they’re raised, people think these animals are caught in the wild, or they don’t know they’re kept in cages, they don’t know about temperature control stuff to make their fur grow, they don’t know they’re electrocuted, and it’s revolting. I just wish people knew that stuff.”
Despite their differences, though, McArthur, Kallinikos, and Matthews all seem to agree on one thing: fur – and real fur at that – isn’t like to go completely out of style any time soon.
“Many people like fur because of status, because North Americans are really into that,” says McArthur. “And the dreamer in me says maybe people will become aware and say no to it, but really I don’t think so. I don’t think it’ll ever go out of style.”
“I think that there’s a certain mentality and a certain cultural influence that says that fur is a luxury,” says Matthews. “And faux-fur, though it’s certainly very luxe, it just doesn’t have that dollar value which some people want as a status symbol.”
Though Kallinikos admits his business has seen a drop in the demand for furs since its heydays, he has also noticed a new surge in younger customers.
“Many of our customers are wealthy, but we do have a lot of young customers that just want fur accents on their clothes,” he says.
So while fashion’s torrid love affair with fur is bound to continue for generations yet to come, now might be the best time to get on the ethical – not to mention more affordable – faux-fur wagon.