The animal rights organization known as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was once able to cause a media splash every time they sprayed a fur-donning celebrity with red paint or doused them with flour.
They spent years playing brilliantly, literally dirty, and it seemed—for a time—that public figures were backing down on wearing fur. Designers replaced the real thing for faux substitutes and a long list of celebrities joined PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked” campaign, promising to never wear clothing made from animals.
But their resolute deployment of the moral compass may finally be over.
The fashion industry appears no longer afraid—fur has been seen on almost every high-end runway from New York to Paris as designers present their upcoming collections. Everyone from The New York Times to Fashionista is seeing it as next winter’s big trend.
Karl Lagerfeld, for instance, who designs for Fendi, Chanel and his eponymous line, was one of many to put fur at the forefront of their collections. Almost every piece he designed for Fendi, from handbags to sweaters, was soft and fuzzy with animal hair. And, to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary, he’s holding a haute fourrure, or “couture fur,” runway show this July at the couture shows in Paris.
“For me, as long as people eat meat and wear leather, I don’t get the message. It’s very easy to say no fur, no fur, no fur, but it’s an industry. Who will pay for all the unemployment of the people if you suppress the industry of fur?” Karl Lagerfeld told The New York Times.
“I’m very sympathetic. I hate the idea of killing animals in a horrible way,” he continued. “I think a butcher shop is even worse. It’s like visiting a murder. It’s horrible, no? So I prefer not to know it.”
The “out of mind, out of sight” mentality is what keeps most of the world okay with the production of fur garments. It’s a thought process PETA has aimed at changing, by challenging many people on their “Worst Dressed Celebrity List” to watch a series of torture-filled videos from fur farms.
And because of the harsh reputation that fur farmers are often associated with, many governments have passed strict regulations on the farming of animals solely for the value of their furs.
According to the Humane Society International, Austria and the United Kingdom are the only countries that have banned it completely. The Netherlands, who is Europe’s second largest mink producer, has phased out the farming of foxes and chinchillas.
And, while the United States hasn’t passed any official legislation on the matter, mink farms have dropped from over 1,000 farms in 1988 to less than 300 in 2009.
Still, fur has made a definitive comeback in fashion.
As the Daily Mail noted last year during London Fashion Week, 70 percent of catwalk shows featured fur, something that would have been unheard of decades prior.
The traditionally massive, floor length coats were previously reserved for the elderly as the fear of “public censure and perhaps even having paint thrown over you” kept many trendsetters and designers at arms length.
But by 2011, the industry had completely rebranded itself as “ethical” and “luxurious,” pushing sales up 70% in ten years, to more than $13 billion. They developed new techniques, such as dyeing and thinning, to give designers a more versatile material.
“The traditional fur was grandma’s fur coat, which was a one-off luxury buy that you bought and treasured all your life,” Mark Oaten, chief executive of the International Fur Trade Federation told The Guardian. “But five or six years ago technology moved on and allowed designers to use fur in fashion, allowing it to be used in a million ways. It can be affordable and there is a whole new generation to fall in love with fur.”
Earlier this month, Emilio Pucci sent a multicolored coat down the runway in Milan. A forest green base was swirled with bits of black and white as an ombre pattern emerged from the colors combining.
The fabric has been added to high-heels and sneakers, handbags and key chains. If it’s not lining the inside or the trim of a coat, it’s sewn onto pants, blazers, sweaters, and crop-tops.
And some celebrities who once decried the trend in PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked” campaigns are changing their stance.
In 2009, supermodel Naomi Campbell, who appeared in the organization’s 1994 advertisement, took to the runway in fur designs by Issa before signing on as a brand ambassador for luxury furrier Dennis Basso.
Similarly, Cindy Crawford, who also posed nude for the PETA, has come under fire from the organization multiple times for appearing in ads for fur giant Blackglama and in fur-filled fashion editorials.
So, what of the once-victorious PETA?
While they once stormed restaurants to put dead rodents on peoples plates, threw paint at red carpet events, and dropped flour bombs at unsuspecting victims, it seems their tactics have begun to disappear from the spotlight.
When asked how they are taking steps to combat the major comeback of fur in fashion and if they are planning any new campaigns or tactics, PETA cited how luxury markets are just a fraction of the fashion industry. And that many labels have continued to opt for faux fur instead.
“Niche couture designers may cling to their fur fetish, but mainstream retailers (including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.) have abandoned fur. Many brands have already moved on to satisfy the public demand for non-animal skins,” Lisa Lange, the Senior Vice President of PETA told The Daily Beast in an email statement.
“Last month,” Lange said, “the world’s largest clothing retailer, Inditex, which owns such brands as Zara, banned angora and this week donated its existing stock, almost a million dollar’s worth, to Syrian refugees.”
As for Karl Lagerfeld, Lange added that perhaps the designer “would like to enlighten the public as to which killing method is not horrible—anal electrocution, bludgeoning or simply skinning animals alive, all of which are common practice in the fur industry that he so shamefully supports. As for trying to deflect attention away from fur and onto the cruelty of butchery for meat—if he really agrees that meat production is cruel, perhaps he’ll stop eating what he can’t wear or sell.”