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Designer wraps NY Fashion Week in fur

Fur is back in the fashion industry, but designer Gilles Mendel, latest in a French fur dynasty, never went away - and now he's more in demand than ever.

At New York Fashion Week's Autumn-Winter 2011 show, Mendel is a star, the go-to man in a period when fur is back in demand, helped along by an especially cold winter.

"It's clear that when it comes to fur, he is way ahead," an enthusiastic blogger wrote after Mendel's show on Tuesday.

This French-born king of a fur dynasty stretching back five generations is known for the elegance and variety of his offerings in silk and all manner of furs.

No less than half his models came out wearing either sumptuous furs or leathers. The list of furs covered every possible texture and shade, unapologetically embracing the most luxurious, if controversial, of materials.

A beige coat in deerskin came with mink squares across the back, a leather coat was embellished with silver fox diamonds and mink, and even dresses adopted the theme, with black calf skin diamonds over transparent tulle.

No wonder handbags were carefully searched as the public entered - the Fashion Week security team did not want PETA or other animal rights activists to spoil the party.

In a departure for Mendel, models also wore his footwear, resplendent in full-length, deerskin cuissardes under satin or velvet skirts.

Mendel said he transforms fur, perhaps the most ancient material for warm clothing, into an easy-to-wear item. "It isn't as heavy as in the past. I break it down, I mount it on silk, I mix the leathers," he told AFP.

"Today I have a fashion house," he said, but the materials are something that he literally grew up with, playing as a child in the special refrigerated room where his father and grandfather kept their furs.

"I took naps in piles of sable," he remembered.

He has lived in the United States for 30 years and is a New York Fashion Week veteran, but still nervous.

"All the excitement is overwhelming, but it's truly a pleasure, I don't know. I'm still waiting for the results - the crowd's reaction - what they are going to think about the collection," Mendel said before his show.

He needn't have worried.

"The drape of it was great, all well done!" one man reacted after seeing the creations.

"His furs are beautiful and unusual and not the fur you see everyday walking," said Fern Mallis, founder of New York Fashion Week.

If fur sounds like the kind of thing that makes fashion an exclusive and expensive business for most people, then the growing use of YouTube broadcasts of the shows is helping to push the other way.

Fans watch the video clips online and then quickly post reviews and comments on Twitter and other social networks to rival those of the professional bloggers and fashion writers.

"This is exciting, I am watching Fashion Week from my apartment in Cambodia," one amateur fashionista tweeted.

"Thanks YouTube, it's like being on the front row for each show," another enthused.

One show the amateurs couldn't have watched, though, was Mendel, who isn't taking part in the special broadcasts.