Feathers are in fashion but is an ostrich boa more acceptable than a mink coat?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Fashion is getting back to nature, in a riot of colourful floral patterns to be seen all over the catwalks. And if designers are mad about flora, quite a few are even keener on fauna and, more specifically, on adorning their creations with large amounts of plumage courtesy of our feathered friends. That all sounds rather heart-warming, but fashion can always be counted on to be fickle, and this season she has excelled herself.

There were fluffy boas in discreetly glamorous neutrals at Sonia Rykiel; marabou-swathed cocktail dresses in jewel shades at Lanvin and Giambattista Valli; at Kenzo, never shy of a bit of exoticism, clutches and totes came with rainbow-bright feathers to match those adorning the voluminous A-line dresses; and Alexander McQueen had entire wings sprouting from the bodices of some evening dresses and bird-of-paradise collars encircling the necklines of others.

It was an item at Roberto Cavalli, though, that proved the most thought-provoking. Nonchalantly slung over a chiffon dress was a coat covered with pale-brown feathers packed so tightly that from a distance it came to resemble that most symbolically charged of materials: fur. For, while fur remains taboo, especially in animal-loving Britain, feathers are rarely associated with cruelty to animals in the same way. This month's UK edition of Elle, for example, dedicates a page to the best feather buys around; it's hard to imagine an equivalent page being run on fur. And while the majority of London department stores went fur-free years ago, they have little problem with stocking a wide variety of clothes and accessories trimmed with feathers.

Generally considered to be a by-product of meat production, feathers are seen in the same sympathetic light afforded to leather. It is true that most of the plumage used in fashion these days comes from chickens, turkeys and pheasants before being treated and dyed. But while this might assuage consumer consciences, the issue ruffles the pro-vegan animal-rights group Peta.

"There's no kind way to rip feathers from any animal," insists Peta spokesperson Anita Singh. "Most birds have them painfully ripped off or cut out while they are still alive." In response, it's claimed by the fashion industry that the use of feathers is restricted to a limited number of birds and to those that are by-products of the meat industry or from farmed animals.

In fact, Peta's opposition echoes one of the oldest fashion concerns about the apparent mistreatment of animals. "In the 1890s, feathers were an obvious target because the plumage worn by women was more conspicuous than fur," explains Sonnet Stanfil, a curator in the department of fashion, furniture and textiles at the V&A. "It was particularly ridiculed in cartoons in publications such as Punch, where women were shown weighted down by hats with entire wings attached."

According to Stanfil, ridicule soon turned to disgust. "It tied into the change in public opinion regarding sacrificing animals for fashion in general. It was around this time that groups such as the sweetly named Feather, Fin and Fur Folk began to form, though I don't think they had any real success until the 1980s, and even that was focused on fur."

Nevertheless, the feather is staging one of its occasional comebacks. Where does our desire to deck ourselves out like birds of paradise come from? While fur was once a primitive necessity, providing protection from the elements, feathers have never been an efficient way of keeping warm. Rather, their allure has always resided more in their beauty and symbolism. During the 19th century, at the height of their popularity, colourful specimens from colonies such as India were signifiers of power and exoticism, and today they retain that old-school glamour.

But are feathers here to stay? Well, Jade Jagger and Kate Moss are happy to ignore decades of ethical campaigning and wear such a contentious product as fur – so we shouldn't expect too many to shed their plumages for anything other than reasons of fickle fashion.

Beauty spot: Preen with brushes that are as soft as a feather

By Eliisa makin

1. Perfect pout

Pointed lip brush, £9.95, by ScreenFace, tel: 020 7221 8289

Easily portable

2. Lay the basis

Foundation brush, £25, by Space.NK, www.spacenk.co.uk

Contoured to ease blending

3. Exquisite vision

Eye make-up brush, £23, byLaura Mercier, tel: 0800 123 400

Use both ends

4. A quick touch-up

Mini face brush, £27, by Bobbi Brown, www.bobbi brown.co.uk

Made with goat hair

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering