vegansaurus!

03/15/2010

Op-Ed: Outlaw fur  »

Presenting another op-ed by one of our writers, Steve! His views do not necessarily represent those of Vegansaurus as a whole, but as one of our regular contributors, we’re happy to give him the space to express his opinions. If you would like to write an op-ed for Vegansaurus, please contact Laura.

Listen up, it’s time for some tough love. We need to face facts: the fur fight is over, and our side lost. At least for now. We were starting to worry after the furtastrophe at Fashion Week 2010, but for me, it didn’t really sink in until watching Blair swan around in that horrific hat on Gossip Girl last week. The fashion industry is going all-in on fur, and no one really seems to care. How did it get this way? The New York Times attempts to make sense of it all in a behind-the-scenes look at fur’s comeback.

Did the designers forget that wearing fur is fraught with controversy? Or did they simply stop caring? For the first time in more than two decades, more designers are using fur than not. Almost two thirds of those in New York are, based on a review of more than 130 collections that were shown on Style.com last month, which is a surprising development during a recession. And it didn’t just happen because of some idea that was floating around in the collective designer ether. Rather, fur became a trend because of a marketing campaign.

In other words, everything we know about the fashion industry is still true. Fashion isn’t democracy; fashion is fascism. It’s a top-down, command-and-control system driven by a handful of individuals and corporations who make it their business to dictate what the rest of us should desire. When something is “in fashion,” it’s not because everyone started wearing it spontaneously and captured the attention of fashion journalists; it’s because a decision was made in boardrooms to drive the entire public towards a particular look. This is unlike any other form of marketing, where companies respond to existing demand or compete for your attention. It is the pure manufacturing of consent.

While you were sleeping
The big furriers, like Saga Furs, have been on top of things for the last decade or so. Instead of trying to convince the public that fur isn’t cruel (thereby having the debate on our terms), they’ve been quietly working from the inside, pushing fur as just another material to love and admire for its own beauty. They get designers while they’re still in design school, they sponsor design contests, and they give free fur pelts to designers, both as students and at design houses, to use however they want. And with the fur fights of the ’80s and ’90s long faded from memory, fur has been stripped of its controversy among designers.

"We were seeing all of these new possibilities in which you can use fur in a very light way," [designer Alexa] Adams said. "Fur gives a richness in texture. It’s like discovering something new that also has an interesting history."

Several young designers echoed that sentiment, saying they were less interested in fur as a luxury statement or an act of defiance than as a novel design. [Designer Alexander] Wang said he had not intended to use fur in his collection but decided to after seeing so many plush fabrics that resembled fur. “The point was to create that rich, luscious feel while blending the lines between what was real and what was fake,” he said.

For designers, it’s no longer about the usefulness of fur, or about fur coats as a luxury statement, or even as a backlashy anti-statement. It’s about having one more texture on their palette to work with. Missoni’s fall 2010 collection shows this at its most gratuitous. What’s the fur doing in there?

It’s not keeping anyone warm; it’s just a design element like any other. The usual vegan response would be to point out how many great replacements there are. But unless a piece has been designed with faux fur in mind, like Karl Lagerfeld’s surprising fall 2010 collection for Chanel, designers will always want the widest possible range of materials available to them. And the more designers learn about how to work with fur, the more they like it. The furriers gambled on this theory, and it paid off.

Unfortunately, PETA’s anti-fur activism is part of the problem. Their campaigns and posturing come off as dated and tired, or irrelevant. “Watch out for PETA’s red paint, here’s what everyone is wearing this season” is a familiar lede among lazy journalists for a reason: there’s just nothing to fear out of PETA anymore. “I’d rather go naked” has gone from bold and shocking to yet another platform for self-promoting celebrities to self-promote, and in the process, turning fur into a proxy fight between celebrity fan bases.

"Fur is dead" is dead
Problem is, we’re having the argument on their terms. “Fur is dead,” “worst-dressed celebrities,” and boycott campaigns all have the same thing in common: they’re steeped in a free-market, fashion-centric mindset. What’s “in” right now will be “out” later, and what’s “out” right now will be rediscovered again. Today’s anti-fur activism has no hope but to live as a permanent cog in the fashion machine, with this season’s moral determination ready to be cycled out of style with a single “FUR IS BACK” headline. Would it surprise me to learn that Anna Wintour is loving all of this? It gives everyone in fashion an excuse to appear like they understand what people are thinking and feeling as they alternately take out and bring back fur.

The fashion industry is never going to care about animal rights in any lasting way. Hell, they barely care about human rights. Children and slaves work long hours at their factories in poor countries, while women and girls in rich countries starve themselves to look like walking clothes hangers.

So, fuck ‘em. Stop trying to convince fashion to care. They don’t care. Fur is a material to them, the masses will just keep buying what they’re told to buy, and we’ll never convince devoted fans that the stern moralizing of a red-paint-throwing activist is worth more than their imagined celebrity friendship.

As California goes, so goes the nation
Which is why we must outlaw fur, starting in California. Fashion is fascism, and the antidote to fascism is democracy. The solution is simple: use California’s ballot proposition system to outlaw the sale, production, and importation of fur. Exclude the fur in your closet and the fur in the secondhand store so no one will think jackbooted thugs are coming to raid your closet. Run ads on how kittens and puppies are grown for fur in China then falsely labeled, or make it about rich bankers in fur coats vs the middle class, or whatever. We have plenty of good arguments and snappy rhetoric. Pick the best and go with it.

If we win, fur will be off-limits to the biggest market in America. Designers will stop using it because it can’t sell, and in another 10 years, everyone will have forgotten fur exists as a material for fashion. Rich people will find refuge in places like Monte Carlo or Dubai to buy their illicit fur coats, but at least it will be gone from the department stores. And even if we lose, we still win. We’ll spend months putting forth the idea that animals aren’t ours to use for something entirely unnecessary, and at the end of those months, people will have to cast a vote and decide either way. Unlike a consumer decision like a boycott that can be put off indefinitely, people will have to search their souls and decide how they feel, on a deadline.

As gestation crate and battery cage bans were to animal welfare, fur is the perfect starter issue for animal rights. Fur is brutal and horrific, and the only arguments in favor of its use are aesthetic or symbolic. Medical research and even cosmetics testing can be justified in terms of human benefit, as specious as those justifications may be. Eating meat goes even deeper, evoking feelings of scarcity and survival. But fur? Who cares. Does anyone truly care about the creative latitude of fashion designers and fashion editors? Doubtful. So put it to a vote and find out.

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