I’m not sure how long I’d been walking around with the “I’m an asshole, I wear fur” sticker on my jacket but, as I picked it off, I took a moment to mourn the great designer, Karl Lagerfeld, who died in February in the midst of the fashion weeks.
Not everyone bowed their heads for the 85-year-old fashion titan who worked right through his dotage while dressed like a be-pompadoured 18th-century vampire. Ingrid Newkirk, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), sent this charmant tweet an hour after the announcement of the death of her, as she called him, “nemesis”: “Karl Lagerfeld has gone, and his passing marks the end of an era when fur and exotic skins were seen as covetable.”
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Lagerfeld’s attitude to fur was pragmatic. “I hate the idea of killing animals in a horrible way,” but, “as long as people eat meat and wear leather, I don’t get the message.”
When he died, Kaiser Karl still held his 35-year-long creative directorship of Chanel, and also at the Italian fur house, Fendi, where he had run the show since 1966. Fendi furs can cost as much as a modest baronial hall and he never apologised for it; unlike his colleagues in high-fashion houses, who are in the grip of an epidemic of self-righteousness as fur phobia sweeps like a playground craze through the fashion industry.
Even sober broadsheets will spin the fur-banning stories for maximum drama. Grave reports that Chanel had ‘banned’ exotic skins were fake news; the great fashion house actually – factually – stopped using snake, lizard and crocodile skins because the company had no access to the farms producing the best quality materials.
The opinion of the herd is forcing change elsewhere though. Last year Versace, Michael Kors, Burberry and Gucci joined the fur exodus. The latter made an especially odd announcement about dropping fur to focus on ‘sustainable’ fabrics. It’s one thing to frame the debate in terms of whether fur production can ever be ‘humane’ but to cite sustainability as your rationale is hogwash.
Fur, though, will last a lifetime, or two. I should know: I have one made in the Fifties. It’s closer to my mum’s age than mine. It’s dealt with rain and snow. I’ve slept in it a few times. It’s still in great shape. A coat made from the pelts of the many many thousands of culled coyote, say, is about as sustainable as it gets. What else to do with the pelts? Throw them in a pit?
While the industry obsesses about fur, the greatest devastation it wreaks is through the accumulative damage of the 60% of fabrics created in factories from fossil fuels, that and mass market cotton. Cotton is such a thirsty and polluting business that it has left tracts of waterways dry or starved of oxygen and empty of life. In Central Asia, the Aral Sea has nearly disappeared because cotton farmers have bled the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers dry.
A report published by the Environmental Audit Committee on sustainability in fashion during London Fashion Week suggested that all new clothes be sold with a penny tax to cover schemes to manage all the waste the industry creates. But the swiftest way to be sustainable is to stop flogging us tons of stuff that by definition will go out of fashion in six months. The trouble is, that is where the industry’s profits lie.
So fashion’s focus is, instead, on things we can ban and feel nicely righteous telling the world about. The huge online fashion retailer, Asos, worked with Peta to create a corporate responsibility programme that includes banning all skins, teeth and horns, mohair, cashmere and silk. Even mother-of-pearl buttons are out. Save the bivalves, people!
Peta, meanwhile, lauded Boohoo, another British online retailer, for its decision to ban wool. That’s shorn wool – one of the most enduring and sustainable fabrics known to man – not sheepskins. Boohoo sells clothes so cheap there’s no way a noble fabric such as wool would make sound business sense.
So wool is verboten. But plastics and fake fur are fine, despite shedding microfibres that will take hundreds of years to degrade. Let’s not forget that last year, Britons sent 300,000 tonnes of clothing and textiles to landfill.
Nor are upmarket clothing brands blameless. They will throw good clothes away – or burn them, as Burberry did – rather than have their garments devalued by being sold at a discount. Vivienne Westwood has been shouting about “disposable crap”, waving her “Buy less, choose well and make it last” placard since 2013. But Vivienne Westwood Group was also ranked 0/36 “don’t buy” on the independent Rank a Brand website which “assesses and ranks consumer…brands on sustainability and social responsibility.”
Such greenwashing does not fly with Patrick Grant, creative director of the Savile Row tailors Norton & Co and the affordable sustainable fashion brand, Community Clothing. “Fashion is fundamentally at odds with good practice, which is to buy something of high quality and use it forever,” he says. Grant thinks cheap fur is disgusting; but when it comes to high-end farmed fur, he’s with the dear departed Kaiser Karl. European fur from Scandinavia lives a pretty decent life. The animals are not crammed into cages and tortured as Peta would have you believe.
Norway, however, is going to ban the production of fur by 2025. The virtue-signallers and hypocrites are driving its production from one of the most humane regions of the world. In the UK, fur production has been banned since 2000. Post Brexit, the UK government has hinted it will ban the sale of fur altogether. The irony is that these one-dimensional ethical campaigns are hounding the fur trade out of Europe to the lands that animal rights forgot, China and Russia.
In the meantime we are free to buy as much virtue-signalling clothing made from recycled plastic bottles as we wish, perched atop our moral high ground, clad in our microfibre-shedding garments.
Because the only thing more that stinks more than the stripped corpses of farmed mink is hypocrisy.