For years it was the bête noire of fashion; the merest glimpse of a glossy stole was enough to send animal rights activists into a frenzy of paint-throwing. While even the bravest fashion fans have been wary of stepping out in fur, all that looks set to change. With fur-packed catwalks at the recent Paris, Milan, New York and London fashion shows raising barely a murmur of protest, the luxe material is likely to be a key look for next winter, with fur-free stores reportedly altering their stance and stocking it.
This resurgence is thought to stem from the widespread popularity of vintage fur – which attempts to appease shoppers' consciences with the idea that the animal has been dead a long time – and new welfare standards in the fur industry.
"It is back in a massive way," said Jessica Brown, editor of Drapers fashion magazine. "The interesting question is whether the high street will do real fur too. I think probably not; it is a risk."
Designers interpreted the trend in different ways, with Viktor & Rolf designing a bouclé jacket with a silver fox collar, Michael Kors doing chequered fur skirts, and Matthew Williamson topping a bright print dress with a black fur collar.
"As a look, it does seem really fresh. It is part of a move towards luxe fabrics, like velvets, leather and shearling, which are really exquisite. It is about persuading people to spend," Ms Brown said.
However, it is thought that high-street retailers will follow the lead of the Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld – whose recent Paris show had models in fake fur-trimmed tweeds and shaggy fake-fur coats – and interpret the trend using synthetic alternatives.
While the model Twiggy issued a statement condemning the abundance of fur on London's catwalks, saying that she was "disappointed" in designers who used fur, animal rights activists were notably quiet.
Even the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) didn't flare up. "It's no surprise to see the more desperate designers using all the free fur handouts from equally desperate furriers, who see their trade vanishing: a few runways looked like some sort of jihad against the animal kingdom," said Sam Glover, a Peta spokeswoman. "Peta urges designers, including Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld, who last week lauded the 'triumph of fake fur' in his Paris collection, to drag themselves fully into the 21st century."
It is almost 20 years since Peta launched its "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign, during which time the public mood has changed. While the campaign attracted celebrities such as Eva Mendes and Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell caused embarrassment by wearing fur after appearing in the campaign.
Some attribute a softening of attitudes to changes within the fur trade, such as the introduction of the new Origin Assured initiative, which guarantees that fur bearing the label comes from a country with animal welfare regulations. Jan Erik Carlson, managing director of Saga Furs, a marketing agency for the fur breeders which supply leading designers, said: "We understood that the future of fur was in fashion houses, not in high street furriers. There was a realisation that if we wanted designers to use it, we needed to give them a responsible way of working with fur."
Some retailers say they will not be stocking fur under any circumstances. Selfridges, which banned all fur products in 2005, said: "Selfridges does not sell fur and will not be selling fur. Listening to our customers and keeping them happy is our number one priority. The majority don't want to buy fur."