Fee, fie, FAUX FUR. In the industry of high fashion, those two little words have carried a stigma for so long, and the use of “fake” fur has been a…faux pas, if you will. But as the economy evolves and consumer awareness rises, the industry of fur, whether faux, real, or alternative, is changing its tune.
Until recent years, for designers to send synthetic pelts down the runway was all but unheard of. But powerhouse names like Stella McCartney and Michael Kors have begun to make faux furs and vegan leathers staples in their collections. For designers like Kors, who mixes faux and natural materials in his collections, it’s a matter of affordability, giving a wider range of clientele the new ability to don his wares. For McCartney—a lifelong vegetarian—and many designers like her, it is a matter not only of ethics, but of ecological friendliness and sustainability.
One of the biggest challenges a designer can face in using faux materials is achieving the look of authenticity. Leather, for example, has an elasticity not found in synthetic materials. Lacking the same natural qualities as their animal counterparts, manufactured furs and leathers often give off telltale signs of being fake. McCartney’s team, however, is paving the way in creating luxury faux, perfecting the “painstaking—yet pain-free—process of the design team sourcing, studying and testing a range of textiles that combine different blends of organic and synthetic fibers until they decide upon a fabric that looks stunning,” yet is versatile enough to undergo a variety of production techniques. The process can take longer, and be more expensive and labor-intensive, but for many, this is a small price to pay for a “real” alternative to fur and leather.
The choices, however, do not end with real or fake. There is a third option in the business of animal skins that designers are embracing: alternative. Species management has been an incubator to two Louisiana-based alternatives: nutria fur and alligator skin. Neither is new to the fashion industry, but both hold deeper connections to Louisiana and the designers who choose to use them. Cree McCree, founder of nutria pelt wholesaler Righteous Fur, says 100% of nutria pelts are direct byproducts of the government-funded eradication of the invasive species. “Our primary goal is to create a contemporary fashion market for nutria pelts. They are being killed anyway, and 98% of the animals killed are simply thrown away or destroyed.” Nutria is a large rodent species that is rapidly devastating Louisiana wetlands. McCree states that eradication, though unlikely, is the only solution, and the state will pay up to $5 a tail to have nutria eliminated.
Louisiana native and Alabama-based designer Billy Reid is among the handful of designers, including Cynthia Rowley, that have contacted Righteous Fur about using nutria in their collections. Reid paid homage to his home state in his Fall 2012 collection by lining a handful of his outerwear pieces with the beautiful fur. “Sheared nutria is very velvety and luxurious,” says McCree. “It’s a really nice, supple fur.”
For another Louisiana designer, Ashley Porter of Porter Lyons, using nutria fur in her accessories line was an easy decision.
Nutria have destroyed over 100,000 acres of wetlands to date and are a consistent problem. I use Nutria fur in my collection for leg warmers and find their pelts to be gorgeous. PETA is in support of their fur use and so am I.
But for the conscientious designer, the choice to use alligator skins was, legitimately, more difficult. “I wasn’t sold on alligator skin until I took a trip down to Alligator Alley— during a Saints game, no less,” she remembers.
Struggling to take a stance on the issue, Porter decided not to trust anyone’s opinions and research but her own. “I knew my decision would come down to which specific animal I’d make part of the collection, and I’d have to explore the environment and tanning practices for that specific animal.” Fully recognizing the importance of alligator to Louisiana culture, she knew the animal could connect her designs to her nearest market. On Porter’s trip to Alligator Alley, she met the “Alligator Man” and his wife, whose entire economy is based on the alligator industry, “a controlled and regulated industry that manages the alligator as a renewable natural resource,” she notes. Additionally, Porter notes that the economic value of the alligator “encourages landowners and communities to manage the species for long-term return,” ultimately conserving and improving wetlands for the betterment of all.
With peace of mind knowing where her skins would come from, and the safe practices used by the Louisiana tannery providing them, Porter ultimately decided to make alligator a unifying factor in her collections.
For some, there will never be an option outside of natural furs and leathers. Whether it be an issue of tradition, quality, or just plain preference, the fur industry will continue to thrive. However, gone are the days of limited or subpar substitute options. With advanced technology and higher commitments to environmental factors, there’s virtually no end of alternatives to “traditional” fur and leather, and no good reason not to explore them.
The history of the necktie is as rich and colorful as the patterns that adorn them. Designers, actors and royalty in the 1920s and 1930s left a distinctive stamp on the tie that gives the modern man the opportunity