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Fur flies: Top designers lead fightback

Some of fashion's biggest names are refusing to heed the animal activists' campaign to ban its use. Jonathan Owen and Mark Jewsbury report

Fur is back on the catwalk, and where fur appears, protests follow. Now some of the biggest names in fashion, including Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani, are fighting back in the face of fresh assault from animal activists who are calling for a ban on its use.

Activists, emboldened by a pledge extracted from the designer Donna Karan to stop using fur after they labelled her a "bunny butcher", have now widened their range of targets.

As well as leading designers, fur-wearing celebrities have been singled out for "shame attacks". The actor Gwyneth Paltrow; model turned businesswoman Liz Hurley and the Welsh classical singer Katherine Jenkins are all the focus of vociferous protests led by the campaign group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

Despite the early success of the campaign, it is now running into determined opposition from many of the industry's most illustrious designers. The French designer Jean Paul Gaultier last night refused to stop using fur. "He has always used fur for his creations and he will continue to do so," a spokesman said. "We do not use fur from animals killed in the wild, only those that are farmed." Lagerfeld also hit back, describing the debate as "childish" in a "meat-eating world".

Peta's latest target is Giorgio Armani, citing the rabbit-trimmed jackets and fur-hemmed skirts in his autumn 2008 collections. Last night they accused the Italian designer of having "a cruel obsession with rabbits". "If Armani had the guts to see how terrified rabbits have their fur ripped from their bodies for its fashion whims we bet it would switch to fake," a Peta spokesman said.

Armani has responded by attacking the protesters' tactics. "We must stress that Peta is exploiting our name to stir up public opinion without acknowledging that we include very few fur items in our collections, while certain competitors of ours base much of their business on furs."

The counterattack may be a sign of frustration at campaigners' tactics. The singer Courtney Love has confessed to being "a fur whore" on the internet. In a blog entry she wrote: "If it's 100 years old I'm into it. Sorry Peta. This ermine is ancient and tattered and feels like it belonged to a Queen."

Lindsay Lohan's girlfriend, Samantha Ronson, also hit back after the actor was flour-bombed by protesters in Paris and branded a "fur hag" late last year. Ronson said: "I don't wear fur, but I don't think I have the right to attack those who do. No one has that right. Peta should focus their efforts on educating people on what they believe are injustices."

The British Fur Trade Association said yesterday: "People do not want to be dictated to. Whether it is with regards to eating meat or wearing leather or fur the public want to make up their own minds."

Campaigners resolved to continue their campaign. "We remain hopeful that no one is beyond becoming fur free. We continue diplomatic efforts at the same time as our protests," a Peta spokesman said.