Controversy. When Prince sang about it he definitely wasn’t singing about the use of fur in fashion, although he certainly could have been. For being the oldest material used to clothe the human form, it has garnered the most controversy and all-out drama within the fashion world (not an easy feat) and it’s a to-do sure to continue far into the future. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and their brethren publicly bash, harass and creatively oppose the wearers of fur and fashion designers who use it, although designers rarely seem to take notice of the criticism. Karl Lagerfeld has been known to be a staunch supporter of the fur industry and takes on a somewhat excessive “kill or be killed” mentality. Other designers however, whether in response to fur protestors or not, often seem to go to extremes when incorporating fur and leather into their collections. In 2008, Jean Paul Gaultier had models strutting down the runway garbed in fur pelts, some with teeth, nose and eyes still attached; not exactly what one would consider high-luxury. And yet, although it may be hard to imagine at this space and time considering the wealth needed for such an extravagant purchase, fur as clothing comes from very humble beginnings, very similar to what Gaultier may have been trying to mimic.
The first human to don fur, the caveman, going all the way back to the stone ages (think Fred and Wilma Flintstone) did so to protect himself from the elements and stay warm. Fur was an easy choice for its warmth and durability. However, it didn’t take long for this functional material to become something of fashion and the ultimate status symbol. The Greeks and Romans used horse hair in their helmets to denote high rankings and to a way to stand out from the crowd. Fur was also a sign of affluence and beginning during the Roman era it was a source of income as trading furs became prevalent and helped spread fur’s popularity from the Mediterranean to northern Europe.
Even though a mink coat is the ultimate status symbol today when talking fur, it was beaver felt that jump started fur as fashion in the 17th century. Beaver accessories such as muffs, hats and gloves were the platform that introduced fur fashions. The 1960s introduced a rejuvenation of the fur craze where every woman craved a mink coat, the most luxurious clothing item a woman could own. Of course with the rise in synthetic materials around this time, faux furs were just as popular and had women constantly questioning “is it real or fact?” Many women today may be asking the same question come this fall. As the cooler months hit, the furry trend is set to reemerge once again with luxurious furs dyed in wild shades, so don’t expect the controversies to end any time soon.
—Bonnie J Brown
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