Fake fur is turning out to be the season's most political fashion symbol. All of a sudden it represents more than just the latest style; it connotes a social conscience for many people. But even the least politically motivated might appear to have joined the cause when they get a look at the synthetic minks, lynx and sables now stalking the coat departments of local stores.
Some top-name designers are encouraging the trend, though not necessarily for political reasons.
In Milan, Giorgio Armani, who lives with five cats and two dogs, is showing fake furs with a glamourous feeling about them. He says he's not an animal-rights zealot, but finds fake furs appealing anyway. "The look is fun and my menagerie still loves me," he says.
In Los Angeles, Antony Moorcroft says he favors animal rights. But he believes his fake-leopard, bathrobe-style coat is such a success because it fits in with the broader trend toward animal print fashions.
"We've shipped over 1,000 of that coat for fall, our biggest single cutting ticket ever," he says.
New Yorker, Norma Kamali offers: "I'm a vegetarian and love my three dachshunds." But, it is the slouching economy that makes her question the taste level of real fur now.
"It seems inappropriate to display any sort of wealth in such devastating times," she says. The improved quality of the fabrics also influenced her, Kamali says.
At Tyber, the Belgium-based fake-fur fabric company that counts many top designers among its clients, a spokesperson points out how new, cotton-and-acrylic-pile blends make the content of the fabrics feel like velvet. And advanced technology allows for long hair, thick and flat weaves as supple as silk and closely resembling a range of real animal fur.
Maintenance is easy too: Fake fur need not be stored in cold locations during warm-weather months, and it can be dry cleaned. It also eliminates the obvious security risks of real fur.
While many in the fur business contend that animal-rights activists are not influencing their sales, they admit that sales are down.
"Overall it's been a tough year, but that has more to do with economic conditions than people reacting to animal-rights issues," says Marvin Oshan, managing director of Fein and Co. furs in New York. "Our business is still up 10% over last year."
PETA (people for the ethical treatment of animals) coordinator Dan Matthews says sales figures are down. He cites a report by Evans Fur, a large U.S. chain, that the company lost $2.2 million in the first quarter of 1989.
The fashion element, combined with the lower price of fake-fur styles (Moorcroft's full-length leopard retails at $250) certainly accounts for some of the loss in real fur sales this season.
But the fact that so many admired, or otherwise notable women around the world are letting their preference be known, may be having the strongest impact of all.
In London, Princess Diana reportedly returned a mink coat that was a gift from Prince Charles. First Lady Barbara Bush refused to wear fur for her husband's Inaugural celebration last winter. Ivana Trump, president of The Plaza hotel owned by her husband, Donald, has made a pronouncement-no more fur for her. And ealier this year, Zsa Zsa Gabor sold all of her furs.