She was reaching for the monkey fur coat when it happened. As New York City fashion designer Kym Canter went into her closet to grab the vintage black fur that had once drawn admiring looks and made her feel chic and sexy, she felt something else entirely: She knew people at the party she was headed to would be looking at her, yes, but for the wrong reason—they’d be outraged by the suffering behind the fur. And she realized that as much as she loved the coat’s design and look, she could no longer ignore its origins.
For much of her career as a stylist, fashion editor and creative director, Canter had worked with fur. During eight years at luxury retailer J. Mendel, Canter had collected a kind of archive of dozens of furs—the kind that cost $45,000 and up. Some were her creations. Others, like the monkey fur coat, were her inspiration. But now she was starting to feel bad about wearing the skins of dead animals. A thought entered her head: “I don’t want to be this person—I don’t think I am this person.” She left the coat where it hung.
It was winter 2016. Canter began seeking out high-end faux fur and designing coats for herself, then her friends. In November 2017, with money from the sale of 26 of her animal furs, she launched a new label, a faux fur line called House of Fluff. Canter is CEO and creative director. Alex Dymek, formerly director of fur development at J. Mendel, joined her as design director.
“Fur? I’m out of that,” Donatella Versace told the Economist in 2018. “I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion.”
Chloe Mendel, whose grandfather founded J. Mendel, switched from animal fur to faux in 2017 when she founded Maison Atia in New York, which uses the same craftsmanship, even the same sewing machines. “[Faux fur] was an unexplored material that I knew had a lot of potential,” she says. “It has [the] ability to be worked similarly to the way fur is but so much more. You can manipulate the weaving of the fabric, or the actual material. Factories are pushing the boundaries of what this material can look and feel like.”
West Hollywood, Berkeley, San Francisco and Los Angeles have all banned the production and sale of animal fur, and this spring, the New York City Council—in the nation’s largest fur market—debated a similar ban. The California Assembly approved an HSUS-backed bill that would establish the first statewide fur ban.
“The world’s top designers, who used to use fur—the Versaces, the Chanels—they’re all fur-free now,” says Smith. “Today luxury is, ‘What’s innovative? What’s sustainable?’ As more and more cities and states ban fur sales, it’s going to be difficult for fur to ever come back.”
The fur industry claims this is “natural,” “organic,” “green.” The International Fur Federation advertises its membership in the International Union for Conservation of Nature and has developed a system called FurMark that claims to certify farms following “animal welfare” guidelines, but in reality still allows for anal electrocution and caged confinement. Experts say there’s no way to humanely raise wild animals in small cages. In the United States, animals raised for fur fall outside the legal protection given to animals raised for food—they are not covered by the U.S. Humane Slaughter or Animal Welfare Acts. When Germany required that animals be allowed to engage in natural behaviors (swimming for minks, digging for foxes), fur farms there ceased to be economically viable—none exist now.
As the big fashion houses acknowledged the innate cruelty of fur and abandoned the material, the fur industry launched a fierce public relations campaign denouncing faux fur as unsustainable because it is made from polyester. Canter says the pushback briefly changed the conversation. “Suddenly, we’re held up to this standard that no one else is.” Few questioned why faux fur alone was being targeted for harming the environment, when many types of clothing contain polyester. Lost also was the fact that unlike mass retail clothing, high-end faux fur is not washed frequently and so does not shed microplastics. It will rarely end up in landfills.
During a 2018 panel discussion hosted by Humane Generation, Laura Brown, editor-in-chief of InStyle, announced the magazine would no longer run photos of fur. Asked whether the fashion pendulum would swing back toward fur, she gave an emphatic no. (InStyle received the HSUS’s Henry Spira Corporate Progress Award for its strong stance.)
In New York, the nation’s fur capital, more and more designers are choosing faux.
Anna Tagliabue first fell in love with faux in the mid ’90s as a stylist at Fendi when the luxury retailer introduced a coat in a beautiful faux fur—soft, light, inspiring—then quickly withdrew it because it was outselling their more expensive animal fur. In 2017, Tagliabue launched a high-quality faux fur line called Pelush (Plush in Italian), with a heavy dose of activism. Her models stage protests in New York’s streets and wear slogans on the runway.
“I consider myself an activist first and a fashion designer second,” says Tagliabue, who calls for a “ReFAUXlution.” “We can now replicate any fur that exists in nature and even invent new ones. Faux fur is the perfect antidote to real fur.”
In May, Ecopel’s communications manager, Arnaud Brunois, came to Manhattan to argue on behalf of the New York City fur ban. There were around 100 anti-fur activists outside City Hall during the seven-hour hearing and an equal number of protesters dressed in black T-shirts that read “NO FUR BAN” (evidence has emerged that the fur industry has been paying some protesters).
Canter was not there, though. Instead, she’s focused on using high-end, stylish faux fur to finally displace animal fur in the fashion world. Her work is part of a larger change happening in the spotlights but also quietly, inwardly. In gradually reached but firmly held convictions. In the melting and reforming of hearts. A time will come, Canter says, when there will be no need for labels or fur-free buttons to distinguish faux from actual. Animal fur will have disappeared: “If you create a beautiful enough alternative, that’s how we’re going to win.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Contact your city council to ask them to support a fur sales ban.
- Federal law requires clothing labels to list any animal fur (even trim). But labels, color, texture and cost may mislead. Consumers should still check: Examine the material the hair comes out of to make sure it is woven fabric and not skin, and look at the ends of hairs—they should not be tapered (animal), though blunt ends could be either faux or sheared animal fur.
- If you have animal fur in your closet, you can donate it to wildlife rehabilitation centers, which use it as bedding for baby animals.