SUSTAINABLE STYLE: WHY IT MATTERS THAT GUCCI IS GOING FUR-FREE
Fur. Whatever, right? Australia is a beach country with relatively mild winters. Fur is simply not part of our fashion culture in the way that it is in places like New York and Milan. Or Russia. Oh God, Russia. I once went to Moscow during winter, and the entire population seemed to be swathed in unholy amounts of the stuff. But, what does Australia, about to head into bikinis-and-boardies season, care if Gucci bans fur?
In fact, fur-trimmed accessories do seem quite popular here, and I saw a lot of puffer coats with fur trimmed hoods and rabbit fur gilets this winter. The Rome-based fur house Fendi entered the Australian market this year, opening stores in Westfield Sydney and Melbourne's Chadstone. While they sell ready-to-wear, leather goods, shoes and accessory collections, fur remains the brand's raison d'être. There are Fendi evening gowns made from shaved mink cut to resemble flower petals, and Fendi coats made from 'Persian lamb' (also known as astrakhan, it's the tightly-curled fleece of a fetal – or newborn lambs; gross), rare sable and lynx fur
If fur is suddenly "not modern", as declared by one of the most influential fashion people in the world right now, what fashionista in her right mind is going to want to don it? "Not modern" is the kiss of death. Or the kiss of life for the billion rabbits and 50 million other animals killed for their fur each year. Maybe you think rabbits are pests? Maybe you'd happily shoot one and wear its tail as a hair clip. The fur debate is emotive and divisive, but whatever your personal ethics, you'd have to admit, fur is not really necessary in 2017, is it? Unless you're staring in Vikings.
Stella McCartney has been saying fur is unnecessary for her entire career. But for some (not me obvs; Stella is my fashion hero) the British designer will always be a special case, a fringe-dwelling eco warrior vegan woman, who makes peculiar platform shoes out of plastic. McCartney's mum Linda was married to a Beatle, sold a line of veggo sausages when pretty much everyone in the UK was a rampant carnivore. Let's just say McCartney is an outlier.
But it is significant that the Stella McCartney label is part of Kering, formerly known as the Gucci Group. She admits it was tough convincing the business world that a leather-free luxury brand was viable in the early days, but she has proved that vegan accessories can turn a profit. No one's suggesting Gucci will ever drop leather, but it's reasonable to imagine the Stella McCartney factor helped them decide to cut fur.
Many department stores, including David Jones and Myer here and Selfridges in London, no longer sell it. In June, Net-A-Porter announced it was dropping fur, after a survey found more that more than half the customers questioned preferred them not to sell it. Several big-name luxury brands including Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Armani have also gone fur-free.
Yet globally the fur trade is worth more than US$40 billion ($50.56 billion).
In China, Japan and South Korea fur sales tripled in the 10 years leading up to 2012. That year Asian sales accounted for the biggest chunk (35 per cent) of the global total. According to the International Fur Federation, the Chinese market slowed in 2015, but "there are newer markets – even in India and Iran – with massive potential where we will be working hard to drive further interest".
Fur in these markets speaks of cash and cachet – it means you've made it. But, after a period in the 1990s when many fashionable types considered fur tacky and cruel (think the supermodels in the PETA campaign who would 'rather go naked' than wear it), fur is back as a symbol of moneyed glamour in the global north too.
Lady Gaga, Sharon Stone, Kate Moss, Kimye and Rihanna are fans. The new autumn 17 collections have just arrived at Matches Fashion and there are loads of furs – J.W. Anderson is flogging Argentinian fox, Vetements is pushing mink. Prada's wool coats have fox fur cuffs.
So what's wrong with fur anyway? If you wear leather/ eat meat/ drink milk, why not wrap yourself in the super-soft pelt of a furry critter? Here's a few reasons I can think of:
Eight-five per cent of the fur produced globally is factory-farmed, a practice outlawed in the UK in since 2003. As the British Farm Animal Welfare Council notes, minks and foxes, unlike herd animals, are "essentially wild" – inquisitive predators particularly ill-suited to confinement in small cages. Foxes like to dig. A mink will typically patrol riverbank stretches of several kilometres, and is semi-aquatic.
Fur farming is outlawed in Austria and Croatia, and effectively banned in Switzerland. Italian law was changed in 2008 to require pens and swimming water on mink farms (although, obviously, the animals are still caged).
A typical mink cage in Europe is 70cm high, 40cm deep and 45cm across. Nesting boxes are standard in most countries but stacked cages are common, and the floors are usually open wire, so there's nothing to protect animals on lower levels from falling excrement. The animals are usually kept two to a cage, further restricting movement – and anyway, where are they going to move to?
Then there's the killing. Methods vary from gassing (most common in the EU) and lethal injection, to neck-breaking, and anal and oral electrocution (which induces a heart attack while the animal is conscious).
The global fur trade – like the trade in exotic skins – is a big, unwieldy, amorphous, and poorly-regulated beast. No doubt some suppliers do their best to operate ethically, but the industry is also home to those China-based producers who flog 2 million dog and cat skins each year.
There are scant laws regulating how fur farm animals are treated or killed in China, which produces 25 per cent of the world's pelts.
A 2005 joint investigation by Care For The Wild and Swiss Animal Protection uncovered evidence of animals being skinned alive on Chinese fur farms, and concluded that inhumane cages, "rough treatment" in general, and the practice of slaughtering animals in front of those left living were routine.
And for what? There are very sophisticated fake furs available. Of course, luxury is about status not practicality, which is how Fendi can send coats down its runway worth 1millon euros, and indeed how Gucci can sell dresses that cost 20 grand. But the fur thing, it just doesn't seem terribly modern, really does it? I think I'll pass.
This column first appeared in Daily Life. Read more of Clare's Sustainable Style columns for Daily Life here.