Victory for animal rights campaigners as Ralph Lauren shuns fur

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The decision to forgo fur by the New York-based fashion house is a notable coup for animal rights groups, particularly People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).

It is the first instance of a major high-end fashion chain taking the step since Calvin Klein took a similar vow in the mid-1990s. With the tag-line, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur", Peta has for years aggressively pursued designers continuing to use animal pelts, as well as celebrity figures caught wearing them in public. Its long-time favourite target is Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, on the ground that her magazine continues to encourage fur fashion in its editorials and advertising spreads.

The group is also famous for disrupting fashion shows around the world, pelting fur-wearing personalities with eggs and flour and storming fashion houses in New York and London. Paris Hilton, the hotel heiress, found herself sprayed with flour at the London Fashion Week in February after showing up in real fur. Two weeks ago she pledged to give away all her furs.

While Polo Ralph Lauren has never been a major purveyor of fur, its product line includes items with fur details, for example on the hoods of winter jackets. "We are publicly announcing this decision because the use of fur has been under review internally and we feel that the time is right to take this action," the company said in a statement.

Executives had been in discussion with Peta before making the decision. They may have been influenced by the management of another clothing chain, J Crew Group, which stopped selling fur last year after Peta threatened to organise a boycott against it and began picketing its shops across the US.

Celebrating the turn-around by Polo Ralph Lauren, Dan Matthews, a vice- president of Peta, called it "one of the biggest victories in the fur campaign".

Ingrid Newkirk, the group's president, added: "Ralph Lauren clothes have always been elegant but now you can feel comfortable inside and out, knowing that the company has made this compassionate decision." Polo Ralph Lauren also said that it would give away any left-over items including fur to charities which distribute clothes to the poor.

It did not give any indication of the likely financial cost of the move. Other companies now in the Peta cross-hairs include the British designer clothes company Burberry, as well as Donna Karan International in New York.

Making her pledge to ditch all things fur, Ms Hilton said she had also been lobbied by the estranged wife of Sir Paul McCartney, Heather Mills, well-known as an animal rights campaigner.

"I met up with Heather and she showed me videos of how badly the animals are treated. It is just disgusting. I am an animal lover," Ms Hilton said.

Ms Wintour, meanwhile, is feeling the pressure more than ever. She once again found herself targeted last Tuesday by a group of Peta protesters sporting masks in Ms Wintour's likeness and fitted with devil horns, outside Vogue headquarters near Times Square.

The costume refers to a new film, The Devil Wears Prada, due for release in the US on 30 June, based on the book of the same name written by a former employee of Ms Wintour's at Vogue. The book and film explore the reputation of Ms Wintour - played in the film by Meryl Streep - as a ruthless and driven maven of the New York fashion scene. It has also given a Peta a handy new slogan with which to berate Ms Wintour - "The Devil Wears Fur".