China's new rich join the Gang of Fur

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The Independent Online
What does a 29-year-old Peking woman in black and white leopard- patterned leggings, a spangled polo-necked jumper and a hand full of gold rings hanker after these days? "I like this one," said Li Mei, pointing to a 69,000 yuan (pounds 5,500) full-length white mink coat with matching hat. "It is very clean looking."

Describing herself as a "private businesswoman", Ms Li said she had bought a short fur jacket last year for about 20,000 yuan, more than four times the average annual wage in China's cities. She expected before long to buy one of the luxury coats, made with imported pelts, on show at the leather and fur department of the Yaohan department store. Yaohan sells at least 10 coats per month at prices ranging up to 268,000 yuan (pounds 21,500) for a full-length mink.

In Britain, models have been protesting against the fur trade. In China, people view the matter differently. The new rich see fur as a status symbol to add to the mobile phone, the karaoke and the Mercedes. Animal rights don't get a look in.

For the past two days Peking has played host to the biggest fur fashion show ever in Asia, organised by Saga Furs, a Scandinavian consortium. On the catwalk were such style setters as Gianfranco Ferre's "skin-on- skin pink dyed Pastel Mink zipper bomber jacket" and Saga's own "flared skirt in aqua blue plastic with fur, worn with tank top in petrol-blue linen with fur". For the "little emperors" produced by China's one-child policy, there was Susanne Lassen's "child's lilac-dyed plucked white mink coat with teddy bears".

Chinese men as well as women are going fur crazy, according to Saga's president, Boe Hansen. "You see the young men in their leather bomber jackets with mink trim or mink collar," he said. "You will see so many that you will hardly believe it. It is very much `in' to have a little jacket with fur trim."

And what of the women? Back at the Yaohan store, one 25-year-old was fingering a 38,000 yuan full-length grey mink coat longingly. Her husband would pay for it, she said. The same coat was being eyed by Xue Hong, also 25, who manages a clothes shop in one of Peking's glitzy hotel malls. "By wearing a fur coat you can show others that you've bought the most expensive things, and it looks very upper class," she said.

Does snob value count in China? "There is no doubt," said Mr Hansen. "I think the Chinese are born with the feeling." The same coat is priced much higher in China than in the West. "If it is too cheap it can't sell," he said.The buyers are people in private enterprise, Chinese employed by foreign companies and "civil servants at a high level".

With fur politically incorrect in the West, China is increasingly valuable to the trade. "Today I would rank China as the second or third most important fur market in the world. It will be the most important within two to three years," said Mr Hansen.