Their protest defined a timewhen fur was increasingly seen as a cruel and outmoded fashion statement. But 11 years later, it appears fur could again be all the rage. Furriers have reported a massive surge in sales in the past year, with fur reappearing on the Milan and Paris runways.
This year's "winter look" is dominated by the presence of fur trims and mink, and the British Fur Trade Association claims that a growing number of women are seduced by its allure, with sales having risen by a third in the past year. There has been a reported upsurge of fur sales in Europe and this year's Copenhagen Fur Auction shows that its commodity price is up 15 per cent, and the International Fur Trade Federation says that global sales have increased from $9.1bn (£5bn) in 2000 to $11.7bn last year.
A BFTA spokesman said that the fur renaissance was partly down to the changing attitudes of people. "Designers are using fur and we now have nearly 400 top designers who use it," he said. "Fur being versatile has increased its popularity. Gone are the days when fur is associated with only heavy coats. These days, it can be seared, plucked, knitted and used as trim."
That versatility has led to a younger generation of fur enthusiasts, he said, with a growing band of celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé Knowles and Elizabeth Hurley elevating its "cool" status.
But animal rights groups deny there is a revival in the fur trade, and insist that for every celebrity who endorses fur, there are a dozen who make a public protest against it. Days ago, Heather Mills McCartney stormed Jennifer Lopez's fashion house headquarters to protest against its use of the fur. McCartney and other protesters wore a "body video" showing horrific images of animals being skinned alive for pelts as they demonstrated against Lopez's Sweetface label. Mc- Cartney claimed a lot of the purported luxury fur products were made from cat and dog hair, mislabelled as fox, mink or sable and dyed to order.
Sean Gifford, director of European campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the fur trade had resorted to desperate measures to try to bolster its popularity, often sending fur items free to celebrities as well as sponsoring runway shows for major designer labels including Versace.
"There is a handful of celebrities who continue to wear real fur but they are by far the minority," he said. "There are no official, retail figures for fur, and the government does not keep track of the retail price of fur, so we don't know about sales. The fur trade is trying to sell a product and they are painting a rosy picture on a dying product they are desperate to resuscitate."
He said it had become increasingly difficult to buy real fur on the high street, with major stores including Harvey Nichols, Marks and Spencer, Mango, Morgan, Monsoon, Liberty and most recently Selfridges joining the list of shops that have banned fur from their racks.
But Frank Zilberkweit, owner of Hockley, London's largest furrier, said he had a young, hip crowd frequenting his store who often bought items for a couple of hundred pounds, and older, wealthier clients who were happy to spend up to £20,000 on a coat.
"My daughter wanted to have something made of fur for university. It's OK to be wearing it. They don't have a problem at all with it."
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