The fur has been flying this season as the provocative material's prominent return to the catwalk has reopened much debate about the ethics of wearing animal pelts. But the designers who went for the real McCoy, showing mink, fox or beaver, were matched by those who chose to mimic such textures with less controversial methods.
Teddy-bear fur – boiled and brushed wool that apes the plush texture of a cuddly toy – was used to great effect at MaxMara in the house's classic camel, where it was cut into oversized sports-inspired shapes and styled in layered looks. That colour was also woven into horizontal stripes with a deep shade of midnight. Dries Van Noten became the latest designer to collaborate with the German teddy-bear manufacturer Steiff, which has been creating fabrics for fashion since 2007, when Prada used its woven fur for an autumn/winter collection that marked the designer's boredom with fur – albeit only a temporary lack of interest. Bernard Wanning, the chief executive of Steiff Schulte, says: “We produce the highest-quality alpaca and mohair woven fur, famed for its opulence and lustrous finish. [Our relationship with Prada] brought great interest from designers, many of whom come to us simply asking for 'the Prada fur'. We have continued to supply Prada with mohair fur for the past six years.”
The luxury of using Steiff – apart, of course, from the use of high-quality, natural fibres – is that with more than 6,000 shades and 20 finishes to choose from, its fur can be produced to the exact specifications of a designer; Van Noten's take was long-haired and shaggy and traditional-teddy coloured.
While full-on fur is an automatic no-no in many fashionable circles, in England at least – attendees of the Milan collections in February proved that many other nations embrace real pelts for warmth and glamour – there are many grey areas. Just as leather is seen as a socially acceptable by-product of the nation's love for roast beef and cheeseburgers, so, too, are similar animal skins.
A sleeker look, though one that still provided a sense of tactile warmth, came from the use by myriad designers of pony skin, which despite the misleading name is actually made from cowhide – it is simply treated in a different way from when it is tanned into leather. Show-pony looks came from Trussardi – where Umit Benan's last collection for the house was minimal, sleek and modern – Victoria Beckham, and Marni, the last house showing many looks with the real-furry deal, too.
Shearling outerwear has shaken off its Del Boy connotations thanks to the embrace of brands such as Céline, Burberry Prorsum and Acne in the past. It too can be treated in myriad ways, and so designers can create soft, suede-like aviator jackets with cosy fleece-lining, shaggy straightened-out fur-like fronds, or something altogether more polished with a sleek outer and closely shorn inner. This season, Topshop Unique experimented with fuzzy textures, creating fleecy shearling jackets and T-shirts as well as more fluffy scarves and accessories.
For those who choose not to use animal skins at all – led by Stella McCartney, who has famously taken a stance against the use even of leather for her self-titled line – there are manufactured alternatives to suit most budgets, and some are so realistic that the wearer has been chastised for their seeming cruelty. In 2010, Karl Lagerfeld gave the fake stuff his seal of approval when he used it on skirts, trousers, boots and bags at Chanel's autumn/winter show, at the time declaring that “technical advances are so perfect you can hardly tell fake fur from the real thing”.
But it's not only about fur-like finishes this season, as pieces are given a fuzzy treatment instead. Coats in brushed wool and mohair abound – and should be paired with a wise investment in a lint-roller, prone as such fabrics are to moulting – while fluffy knits in natural and man-made fibres are a trend that will only get bigger as the weather gets colder.