Lady, it's cold outside

It's a wonder, given the virulence of the animal rights campaign, that anyone dares sport a fur. But look around you and you'll notice that women still wear mink. Or, at least, bits of mink. By Louise Levene

Fur is back. No it isn't. But every year at about this time there appears to be a revival in fur wearing. The anti-fur lobby attribute this seasonal phenomenon to a lavish and unscrupulous campaign on the part of the fur lobby (the fur lobby has always denied doing any such thing). The more likely explanation is that in our annual trip to Bond Street for the winter sales we find ourselves unaccustomedly rubbing shoulders with a lot of rich people and suddenly spot that we are the only shoppers not sporting a mink.

I've never been all that impressed by mink. I had six great-aunts and every one of them had a mink. They weren't call-girls, they hadn't married into.money, they weren't the daughters of a marquess, they were none of them on the stage. They were fur machinists and had each decided at some point that they too should own a coat pieced together from those sad little rodents. Six aunts. Six minks.

Not only was the mink coat itself a status symbol in the Fifties and Sixties, so was its cut. Last year's model could be as bad as no mink at all. Rather as lesser women would alter the hemline of a dress, these doughty machinists could set to work turning last season's shawl-collar- double-cuff into a racy bracelet-length-half-belt-at-the-back. They wore them at every opportunity with hideous hats and a heavy dose of Je Reviens. Too mean to pamper their minks with the summer cold storage they required, their coats gave off an overpowering stench of mothballs. From a distance, family funerals were pure Hollywood - six lipsticked matrons in mink. Move in for a close-up and you'd be gassed by napathelene.

Harrods, which bottled out of selling fur in 1990, continued to offer cold storage for furs for several years but the falling demand put an end to this anomalous service. At pounds 50 a go it would probably work out cheaper to buy the coat its own fridge. No London department stores sell fur coats any more thanks to relentless campaigning by animal rights groups. The now-defunct Lynx started it with posters pointing out that it took 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat "but only one to wear it". Campaigners would stand outside Harrods barracking anyone in sable. It was a licence to shout abuse at rich women and the campaigners seized the opportunity with enthusiasm. The Eighties, which gave Porsche, Mont Blanc and Armani a licence to print money did no favours for what had for so long been the ultimate luxury item. The mink coat was on the run.

Many celebrities embraced the cause. Doris Day, Brigitte Bardot, numerous designers and more supermodels than you could shake a stick at announced that they had given up. Many celebrities took no notice at all. Sophia Loren trousered a cheque for pounds 2.25m from an Italian fur company in search of a figurehead. Other famous people still furred up are such trendsetters as the Queen, the Queen Mother (whose favourite pelts are apparently called Mary and Betty), Shirley Bassey and Barbara Cartland. The Queen took an old favourite out of mothballs for her trip to Russia in 1994 and rattled the cages of the animal rights activists.

There is a school of thought that believes that very old fur coats are all right; that the Queen's wedding present had been a long time dead and that no purpose would be served by giving it a decent burial.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) disagrees. PETA has a worldwide membership of around half a million. Most of them are.women over 35 although the age range stretches from a precociously aware six year old to vegans in their nineties. PETA's claim to fame was made up of posters featuring various supermodels in the raw, proclaiming "I'd rather go naked than wear fur". Even an old coat is, as the spokesperson put it "a coat of death perpetuating the image that fur is glamorous". So what is a girl to do with her motheaten stranded mink? "It should be used for anti fur demonstrations. If you must wear it, it should be painted with an image of the death of the animal that produced it''. Karl Lagerfeld take note.

PETA has tended to concentrate its energy on this small (albeit very visible) group of animal abusers. Wouldn't its campaign have had a greater impact on ordinary people if Christy Turlington had announced that she'd rather go naked than wear a leather jacket? That way men could share some of the guilt so liberally showered on women. Isn't there a danger that the struggle will be hijacked by a bunch of class war misogynists who get an excuse to threaten rich women? "Financially rich but morally and emotionally bankrupt" points out PETA, neatly. The organisation is determined to focus on this rather soft target because it sees a chance to drive home its advantage. "Fur is an issue we are definitely winning. The fundamental difference between leather and fur is that it is a by-product of the meat industry.'' They also claim that fewer lives are lost: "You can make three coats out of one cow [well, you can if you don't want sleeves] whereas it takes 80 chinchilla." Basically, much as they deplore the consumption of animals, the idea of scalping a living creature and then throwing away the insides away fills the PETA people with a special horror. Much of Europe, though, has yet to be convinced: Eastern Europe goes for the tog value but Southern Europe is still in the fur business for the glamour. PETA may claim that the animal rights lobby is on the march in Italy but the streets of Rome still look like a tarts convention. Seven-and-a-half million signoras own a fur coat (but then this is a nation that shoots thrushes for amusement).

Meanwhile, whatever anyone may say about fur being "back", the British fur industry is in a slow but terminal decline. There were an estimated 500 retail furriers in Britain in 1980; by 1992 there were only 57. The Fur Education Council did its best. There was a "Wear Your Fur Coat Day" in 1993,but they were fighting a losing battle. Besides which, the average British woman, whatever her ideological position, is reluctant to spend six grand on a coat she's too frightened to wear, even supposing she had that kind of money.

"In the past it was a status symbol provided by men'' claims a spokeswoman for the fur education council. "Today women buy their own furs." Or bits of them anyway. Rather than face the grief that goes with wearing full- length racoon in the streets, they opt instead for little bits of fluff which the passing animal activist may fail to spot. Even the saintly department stores that abandoned full-length chinchilla are now stocking the odd rabbit collared coat. This sneaky practice has been a shot in the arm for the fur trade whose other nice little earner has been the camouflaging of old skins. Mink-lined raincoats are a huge sideline. Your mother's old three-quarter length black glama can go undercover for around pounds 700 (including mac).

My great aunts were never reduced to this hole-in-the-corner business. Their own minks got the occasional airing as one by one they wore them to each other's funerals. By the time my mother needed a fur machinist to turn her own hard-earned mink inside out, they were either dead or past it. Tired of being spat at outside Harrods, tired of paying for the mink's annual summer vacation, my mother shoved the dratted thing into a cupboard. It's a pretty coat, lovingly crafted from the dead bodies of 40 little minks. Instead of warming and adorning the body of a woman who wouldn't buy a fur coat now but did buy one once, they just hang mouldering in a wardrobe just like thousands of others. Long dead as animals, they are now defunct even as garments. Ban the fur trade tomorrow by all means but what possible purpose is served by all those little mammals walled up in their mahogany graves? They should be worn - if only at funerals.

THE WORD ON THE STREET: WOMEN WHO WEAR FURS

Belgian tourist, (unwilling to give her name) in a wolf fur

I would not buy an artificial coat as it's not good for nature. Of course, it doesn't hurt animals, but producing synthetic materials causes more damage to the environment than producing natural furs. Many people are against fur because they've been indoctrinated that it's bad for the animals. They don't realise that these creatures are specially bred, like cows for steak.

Helena Crosby, graduate student, in a real fox fur

I bought this with some money I was left a couple of years ago. It's second-hand, and I'd like to say that makes it all right. But I do sometimes have spasms of guilt, and even feeling like Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago can't completely get rid of them. If I bought a new coat, I think I'd definitely go fake.

Anne Sklar, American tourist, wearing mink

This is one of two genuine furs I bought in Virginia. Sure, I've bought fakes in the past and I'd consider it again, but you can't deny that real furs are both prettier and warmer. I hope you're not going to pour paint over me. Are you?

Miranda Husband, legal secretary, in a fake fur

The only animal rights I'm violating are teddy bear rights, which is how it should be. Even if you don't believe killing animals is cruel, there's got to be something obscene about spending several thousand pounds on one item of clothing.

June Knott, an English ex-pat visiting from New York, in a fake fur

I got this half an hour ago in a sale because I liked the look of it, but at home I do have a real one. Last year in New York, they seemed very anti-fur. This year, though, the fur boom seems to be back. There does seem to be a different attitude to fur over there. They're not as paranoid about wearing the genuine article. A lot of people buy it. They have to. It's bloody freezing.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

    £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

    QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

    £35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

    Property Finance Partner

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

    Agile Tester

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried