One might have thought that it was gone forever, forbidden by a combination of natural aversion and public disapproval. But just when it seemed safe to come of the forest, real fur is back in fashion. By Tamsin Blanchard
The lingerie designer Janet Reger appears on Channel 4's new fashion show, Desire, last week extolling the virtues of wearing fur. She strokes her full-length mink coat and purrs about how wonderful it makes her feel, and she doesn't care who knows it. The next morning, her shop is not fire- bombed. She is not stoned on her way to work. Her car is not attacked by animal rights activists. She is not splattered with paint. Planet 24, the company behind Desire, and Channel 4 are left completely underwhelmed by one letter and one anonymous e-mail complaining about Reger's "fashion statement" which was, after all, designed to provoke. Reger herself received just one nasty phone call. Around 1.4 million people watched the programme. "It just goes to show that people don't really care any more," says Penny Feuer of Planet 24. "They see it on a par with eating meat and wearing leather."

This month, a full page advertisement with a Fendi fur trim coat is featured in British Vogue. After just a few days on the news stands, there has not been a public outcry. Skinny models cause front page stories on newspapers. But a model wearing a coat with a substantial amount of sable trim causes not even an angry postcard. And Philip Hockley, the Mayfair boutique that sells Fendi furs exclusively, whose address and phone number are brazenly printed on the advert, do not have their phone lines jammed by outraged animal lovers and anti-fur activists.

Harper's & Queen has included fur trims, real and fake, alongside leather in a feature on coats. And the most powerful voice in fashion, Anna Wintour, spoke out in her editor's letter in American Vogue last month in defence of fur which she says this season, are narrow and light, not like the heavy minks your grandmother wore. "I for one," she writes, "don't see any difference between raising animals for hamburgers and farming mink for fur coats." In Paris, this month's French Elle fanfares the return of fur with a headline that reads, "It's OK to wear fur again."

OK? Only a few years ago, wearing fur in public was akin to inviting insult, either verbal or physical. David Bailey's advertisement for for Lynx, with blood dragging down the catwalks, felt unforgettable. But clearly it is forgotten. Fur trims are slinking their way from the catwalk and into our wardrobes without so much as a "how dare you". Whatever happened to the high moral attitude that singled out the British from the rest of the European community? What can beat a thermal vest and a thick wool coat when the temperature drops below zero?

I am among a generation of women who believe that fur is a no-go area, naff, vulgar and, animal rights aside, just too bourgeois for words. Nevertheless, the debate, it seems, just refuses to be reignited.

"Maybe people think the issue is dead because it's been won," says Lisa Armstrong, Fashion Features Director of Vogue. "My generation was brought up to think fur was was naff for anyone under 50. Perhaps the next generation down think it's cool again." According to the Fur Education Council, fur sales in the UK were up by 30 per cent last year.

The animal rights group, PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), who ran the "I'd rather go naked than wear fur," campaign on both sides of the Atlantic, estimates that for a generous-sized mink coat, 60 animals will spend a total 3,600 hours in pain in traps. For anyone intent on a real fur coat, it seems, the pain factor is not important. But even the PETA "naked" campaign has become something of a mockery with one of its participants, Naomi Campbell, modelling the skins of rabbits, squirrels, ponyskin, beaver, Tibetan lamb and mink in a single 10-page fashion story in last July's W magazine. Next week, a similar campaign is launched with the slogan "turn your back on fur", using male models from Boss, the agency that is the first to become fur free.

The fur issue is a very personal one, and in the end, there are always people who would kill - literally - to wear fabrics, metals or stones that are considered precious, rare, or just too expensive for the hoi polloi. What is significant is that the mood appears to have changed and those people can now wear furs without having to put up with any more than a disapproving stare. Janet Reger can appear on national television with a one-sided argument about her passion for animal skins without so much as a murmur. A few years ago, she would not have been so willing to publicly air her views.

Boredom and backlash has set in. Perhaps, people are so used to having to boycott entire shelves in their supermarket, to not eating meat, and then eating it again, to avoid certain countries as holiday destinations, to sanction China, or to avoid wearing silk because it is harmful to silkworms, they have become immune to political correct living. The fur issue has been reduced to the same level as meat-eating and leather-wearing. For the time being at least.

Anna Wintour can celebrate fur's fashion comeback all she likes. But even if I could afford to be ferried around in a limo away from the splatter of red paint, I would not even consider wearing a dead mink, squirrel or rabbit. And no matter how fashionable John Galliano or Dolce e Gabbana may be, I will not be remotely interested in wearing a fur trim from Galliano's Givenchy line or a mink stole by the Italian duo. At Balenciaga's show in Paris last March, young models were reduced to tears when they discovered only minutes before the show that they had to wear fur, but they wore it all the same.