Fashion: Dress sense

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The Independent Culture
ANIMAL fur has become one of the great fashion dinner-conversation no-nos. The issue is as "over" as last season's Gucci shoes. If women want to wear it, what's your problem? It's just another luxury fabric like leather or cashmere. Anyway, it's all either farmed or a by-product.

A week or so ago, I returned from five days at the haute couture shows in Paris, where the collections started with mink shoes and seal skirts at Versace and ended with full-blown fox furs and minks at Yves Saint Laurent. Fur is having quite a fashion moment - and nobody is batting an eyelid. The more fashion designers use it, the more acceptable it seems to become. As I watched coats with fox tails being dragged along the catwalks at the houses of designers both young and old, I looked around me for looks of discomfort on the faces in the audience. But no, there was not even the slightest flicker of disgust, just the whirring of cameras and a smattering of appreciative applause.

"Chinchillas are farmed like rabbits," I was assured by the president of the French Fur Federation after the Givenchy show. Oh, so that's all right then. They are farmed for a reason; let's hit them all on the head and sew their skins into collars and cuffs. "Increasingly, designers are looking for more uncommon furs," he added. "Wild animals." Of course they are. In fashion, extremes and excesses are the order of the day. That's fine if it involves an extra two shoulder pads or a hemline so short a skirt becomes a belt. But when supposedly civilised people are condoning the farming of animals and the culling of seals because their skins make ugly women look even uglier, excess becomes atrocity. Yet nobody will talk about it any more. Nobody splatters red paint on fashion designers' heads. And nobody will confront a fur wearer about her habit - because to be anti-fur is so last season, darling.

Thank God for Brigitte Bardot. Just as I was beginning to despair that the human race would implode with apathy, her leaflets began to be circulated outside the shows. "Do you prefer your furs trapped or farmed?" they asked. "It's for you to decide if wildlife should be respected or not." Whether or not you take a moral stand on wearing fur, there is no getting away from the fact that the woman who can afford to buy it is not likely to spend more than three minutes at a time away from the comfort of her central heating or her limousine. Nan Kempner, the New York socialite, stopped herself in the middle of enthusing about the "beautiful black broadtail fur" she had her eye on at Dior. "What a waste, though," she said. "Who would see it? The husband, the chauffeur and the coat-check attendant." !