Ready To Wear: The fur coat

Blame Mark Wallinger. Or maybe Miuccia Prada. The first lady of international fashion may not be responsible for Cherie Blair's flaunting of a faux fur coat in the first place - she's owned the oversized monster she was photographed in last week for years, by all accounts - but she is the reason that, lumpen or not, it actually seems perfectly in line with the current sartorial mood.

When models at the autumn/winter Prada show first came out in their tufted alpaca coats in February they resembled nothing more than a preternaturally beautiful procession of designer teddy bears. That didn't stop endless whingeing courtesy of at least some fashion commentators who should know better to the effect that, really, these were far from flattering. And, strictly speaking, neither was the the iconic Yves Saint Laurent fox fur chubby. For those of us who aren't Victoria Beckham, proving pencil thinness to the world is not necessarily the only name of the game.

Prada said at the time, and on characteristically provocative form, that she had used alpaca because she was "bored of fur" - as the woman who has, for years, championed everything from mink to astrakhan the ethical implications of wearing the real thing is not an issue. What seemed more significant, though, was the fact that these clothes added considerably to the body mass index of anyone brave enough to wear them. Controversial? Certainly. And quite deliberately so, presumably.

For other designers, though, the treating of wools as well as less obviously chunky weights of fabric to look like fur might indeed have its roots in more animal-friendly concerns. Giles Deacon's giant knits, for example, are clearly this lover of all things furry's alternative to the real McCoy. Animal lover Deacon never uses fur and this despite the fact that the big-name manufacturers are all too happy to provide it free. Stella McCartney's tufted coats are also certainly a sustainable alternative to real skin. McCartney's anti-fur stance is well known and the rigour with which she sticks to it despite being co-owned by the Gucci group is commendable. Alexander McQueen has never been quite so careful in his approach but for this designer the challenge of creating garments in chiffon treated to look like fur has proved impossible to resist. And very cute - if surprisingly chunky - they look too.

"I hate this fun, fake fur coat, probably bought on the high street with change from £100," trilled the Mail following CB's recent appearance. "It's at least the sixth time she's been photographed wearing it. Its first outing was in 2004 to the Labour Party conference and it looks more moth-eaten every time"

There's nothing wrong with Cherie Blair's coat, though, is there? Follow the (fashionable) bear.

s.frankel@independent.co.uk

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