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Fall Fashion Issue

Warming Trend

Fur Is Everywhere This Fall, But Will L.A.'s Fashionistas Accept It?

August 15, 2004|Peter McQuaid | Peter McQuaid last wrote for the magazine for the Men's Fashion Issue.

After a decade in which only the most stout of heart (or tone-deaf) would risk provoking a faux bloodbath by wearing an authentic fur, the fashion world--and the women who follow it--are in a fuzzy frenzy.

Fur has returned--in giant slashes of cobalt blue and sea-green at Sonia Rykiel, in primly tailored jackets and stoles at Lanvin, in luxurious coats at Dolce & Gabbana, and in rock-star rags at Roberto Cavalli. In pink, yellow, baby blue and white, it's adorning collars, cuffs, hats, handbags, shoes, scarves and sweaters at designer boutiques and mainstream stores such as Bebe and Nordstrom.

It might be reasonable to assume that Los Angeles would be impervious to this trend--that its climate and commitment to informality would inoculate it against dressing and adornment rooted in cold weather and convention. But fur is here now, even in August.

A number of L.A.-based designers are showing furs and hides in their collections, among them Richard Tyler, who is making jackets and trimming collars with it; Magda Berliner, who has shown fur in every permutation; and Sheri Bodell, who recently designed a fur coat for rock star Tommy Lee. Former L.A. designer Rick Owens now makes his home in France after being tapped by venerable Paris furrier Revillon to design a clothing line and revamp its approach to fur.

Bodell, who also designs cocktail and evening dresses and sells to Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's and Fred Segal, says her fur and glam-rock-flavored jackets are "my favorite thing to do." She works with silver fox, goat shearling and "a lot of rabbit," which makes her jackets, ranging from $400 to $1,000, a relatively affordable way to crash the craze.

Berliner, a native Californian, uses and wears fur year-round. "Most of what I design is pretty seasonless," she explains. "Here fur is not so much about warmth or survival, but really about its decorative aspect. My work is pretty classic, but I think the novelty of it lies in the different textures I use." She is especially partial to Mongolian curly lamb, rabbit and, for her next season, kangaroo--"it's incredibly soft and silky." Her capelets and bolero jackets in Mongolian curly lamb are "really meant for evening to keep your shoulders warm. I wear them when I go to the opera or the movie theater."

Fur's resurgence is in line with Americans' rising awareness of--and lust for--luxury, and this city has never been one to avoid displays of comfort or success.

But that is only part of the story, because in the last decade the fur industry has undergone its own tech revolution. Thanks to innovations in processing, fur now is lighter, available in colors seldom seen in nature (at least on predators and rodents) and has emerged from its hibernation more suited to most women's informal lifestyles. Pieced into crocheted or knitted tops or shawls, worked into shrugs and scarves, and used to trim sheer blouses and dresses, fur is assuming the role once reserved for beading and openwork.

What also has happened is a thaw in the discourse about fur. Although animal-rights groups have been remarkably effective at drawing a red slash through the use of animals for adornment, the take-no-prisoners approach of some of its more strident supporters may have fueled something of a backlash.

There is no shortage of people who regard wearing fur as repugnant, but the shrieking matches seem to have abated somewhat in favor of discussion. Some women avoid fur that has been trapped, but feel comfortable with ranch-raised animals. Others will wear fur or skins of animals that are used for meat. And some feel comfortable letting the fur industry and international conservation agreements help make choices for them.

Julie Miller, 38, manager of label relations and music programming for an online firm, owns a number of fur jackets and coats by Bodell and other designers. "I eat meat. I wear leather. Why be a hypocrite? I've accepted the fur," she says.

Although designers and retailers credit the colors and new technology used to make furs with its renewed fashion success, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesman Michael McGraw sees something more sinister at work. "All that dyeing and shearing just makes it look less like it came from an animal," he says. "And consumers may be buying it without knowing it's real because it looks so fake."

In a smart marketing move, PETA is showing fashionable alternatives to animal-based clothing. "We're continuing our protests, but in addition to that we've fostered a good relationship within the fashion community," McGraw explains.

PETA's "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" billboard campaign continues, and the group also sponsors animal-free designer shows at Seventh on Sixth in New York. McGraw says the turnout by fashion editors and stylists is good. "We get editors from Vogue, Elle, Women's Wear Daily. It really is encouraging."

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