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.

O magazine cover showing Oprah wore a “yeti” fur coat and a House of Fluff faux fur hat inside.
Oprah wore a “yeti” fur coat on the cover of O and a House of Fluff faux fur hat inside.

Far from the fur district in midtown Manhattan, farther still from the glamorous stores of Madison Avenue, where J. Mendel still sells animal fur, House of Fluff inhabits a small, fifth-floor studio in a trendy block of the Bowery, above an experimental theater club. Canter, Dymek and other staff members work in a long, narrow room with a wood floor, large windows, big tables and a couple of sewing machines. From this modest space has emerged a faux line, including a “yeti” coat—inspired by the monkey fur—that has appeared in Vogue and on the cover of O magazine.

Priced from $125 to $1,500—less than many animal furs—the accessories, bombers, capes and coats are sophisticated and glamorous. And humane.

“I don’t think the status comes from the animal, the status comes from, ‘Oh, what a chic thing!’ ” says Canter. “Every time I get on an airplane, I wear the bomber jacket and everyone asks me about it. They want it. It’s cool-looking. You feel special in it.”

Faux chic: House of Fluff bomber jacket made of faux fur
Faux chic: House of Fluff's Teddy Bomber Jacket
Courtesy of House of Fluff

Not so long ago, animal fur symbolized luxury for a lot of people. Fake furs were dismissed as cheap mass-market imitations. Today, new faux textiles offer the same or better quality, feel and warmth as animal fur. And they’re cruelty-free, easy to clean and don’t require special summer storage. House of Fluff and other new labels like Maison Atia and Pelush are producing high-end, modern, increasingly sustainable faux fur—alternatives reaching the fashion world as more and more designers and brands shun animal fur for good. After four decades of activist protests and exposés by the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare groups, celebrities and stylists no longer want it: When producers needed to depict Elton John in his ’70s-era furs while filming Rocketman, they turned to Canter to supply faux. Primed by years of advice and encouragement from P.J. Smith, HSUS director of fashion policy, a growing number of big-name designers and retailers have pledged to go fur-free: Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Prada; Burlington Coat Factory and T.J. Maxx. Faux fur has increasingly become the norm on runways around the globe, including New York Fashion Week.

Comparison between faux and fur coats
Animal fur and faux fur coats: Meredith Lee/The HSUS; Photo Collage: Rebecca Hallenbeck/The HSUS

“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.”

Technological progress made over the years allows us to have valid alternatives … that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary.
Giorgio Armani

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.”

Raccoon dogs are confined in wire cages on fur farms. Austria, Croatia, the United Kingdom and Norway have banned such farms.
Raccoon dogs are confined in wire cages on fur farms. Austria, Croatia, the United Kingdom and Norway have banned such farms.
HSI

An estimated 100 million animals are killed for their fur each year worldwide. Most are raised on factory farms, with rows and rows of tightly confined animals. Videos taken by undercover investigators from Humane Society International and other groups show what happens when wild animals are crammed into small wire cages: bloody wounds and missing eyes, festering sores and partially severed tails hanging from bodies. Animals fight, they mutilate themselves, they pace. They jump at the front of their cages then back again, for hours. After around seven months, the minks and foxes and chinchillas and raccoon dogs are forced into wire holders that tighten on their bodies so their pelts can be examined. Then they are gassed or anally electrocuted so their fur remains unblemished. Their skins are tanned with toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and chromium so they don’t decay, and the rest of their bodies are composted.

Most animal fur comes from farms like this one in China, where foxes suffer in barren wire cages.
Most animal fur comes from farms like this one in China, where foxes suffer in barren wire cages.
Vshine

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.

Graphic showing the process of turning plastic bottles into thread for faux fur clothing
Discarded plastic bottles are collected and shredded to release moisture. Sorted by color, they are processed to remove tops and labels. The shreds are melted in ovens at 270-degree Celsius. The liquid plastic is pushed through a sieve to create filaments 5 times finer than a human hair. The filaments are combined and heated and further processed into thread.

Even before the fur industry attacks, faux designers and the Faux Fur Institute were moving to new, greener types of faux. Already some of House of Fluff’s coats are made from regenerated polyester woven from recycled polyester threads to reduce the use of fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming. Canter is developing a line of faux shearling coats and jackets in bright colors made from post-consumer plastics, including recycled plastic bottles. The textile was developed last year by a French-Chinese company called Ecopel. House of Fluff is also working with Ecopel and a sustainability certification nonprofit called Cradle to Cradle on getting plant-based compostable “biofur.” “Green faux fur will probably be here in a year,” says Canter.

Meanwhile, animal fur has moved far outside the fashion mainstream.

Dame Helen Mirren wears faux—and an HSUS anti-fur pin—in 2016. Kim Kardashian replaced all her animal fur with faux this year.
Dame Helen Mirren wears faux—and an HSUS anti-fur pin—in 2016. Kim Kardashian replaced all her animal fur with faux this year.
DPA Picture Alliance
/
Alamy Stock Photo

London-based stylist Elizabeth Saltzman, who dresses celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman, says she once admired fur on stars like Elizabeth Taylor. She no longer does. Instead, she uses faux from House of Fluff.

“It’s a duh moment, like you smack your forehead—this is obvious stuff: You wouldn’t want your dog skinned to make a fur collar,” Saltzman says. “I don’t have a single person asking for fur, and I haven’t for years and years. People are finally awake.”

When Los Angeles stylist Jessica de Ruiter began her career in the late 1990s at Condé Nast and Vogue, she didn’t feel she could speak out against fur. Not anymore.

“I’d be really surprised to see someone wearing fur these days,” says de Ruiter, a member of Humane Generation, an HSUS philanthropy program. “I would feel embarrassed for them.”

Do you think using furs today is still modern? I don’t … Creativity can jump in many different directions instead of using furs.
Gucci CEO Marco Bizzari

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.”

We can now replicate any fur that exists in nature and even invent new ones. Faux fur is the perfect antidote to real fur.
Anna Tagliabue, Pelush

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).

Activists and volunteer models for faux designer Anna Tagliabue of Pelush demonstrate on the streets of New York, which is considering banning the production and sale of animal fur.
Activists and volunteer models for faux designer Anna Tagliabue of Pelush demonstrate on the streets of New York, which is considering banning the production and sale of animal fur.
Thos Robinson
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Getty Images for Pelush

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.

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