The stigma once attached to fake fur — it had a reputation as being thick, matted and sticky — has mostly diminished. In fact, the material has evolved into something that looks and feels rather luxurious.
Two of the most cited manufacturers of "high faux" are France-based Tissavel, which has been making fake fur since the 1950s and supplies Chanel and Prada with custom-made material, and New York-based Tiger J, which makes fake fur for Naeem Khan, Dennis Basso, Rachel Zoe and Adrienne Landau's lines.
Generally, fake fur starts with the manufacture of synthetic fibers that are then sewn onto a polyester backing. This process is fairly consistent throughout the whole industry, and the quality of the fibers makes the biggest difference in look and feel.
Tiger J design director Guillaume Poupart says there are two main characteristics of high-quality fake fur: softness and resilience (meaning the fibers bounce back to their original form after being touched). In addition, a higher density of fibers is usually equated with a higher quality.
"It gives faux fur a more realistic look and adds to the softness," says Poupart, who acknowledges that there can be too much of a good thing — too many fibers per square inch can produce an unpleasantly stiff garment.
Machines are used to give the material the look of, say, cheetah or mink. Material is sheared to make fibers the right length, and heat is often applied to the faux fur to coax it to lie in a certain direction (similar to the way a blow dryer works on hair). Dying helps to achieve a realistic look and sometimes involves seven or eight layers of color. Brushing is the final step in the process, adding the softness most people expect of fur — faux or real.
"We look at pictures and swatches to try and get as close as possible," Poupart says. Mink, he adds, is one the hardest furs to replicate because of its luxurious length and coloring.
"At this point we can pretty much re-create any fur that exists," Poupart says, although that's not always aesthetically desirable. "We've pretty much covered the whole animal kingdom, but thankfully there's not much demand for black bear."