Magazine article The Spectator

Why Fur Is Back in Fashion

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Fur Is Back in Fashion

Article excerpt

For the first few years of my teenage life I kept my fingers crossed that my Russian second cousin-in-law once removed would turn up her toes and leave me her collection of fur coats.

She did both things in time for my 16th birthday. A box arrived, big enough to hold Damien Hirst's shark. It entirely blocked our narrow Victorian entrance hall. It reeked of naphthalene, for which I should really be grateful: it had done its aspic-work, preserving some beautiful thick fur coats, which I proceeded to wear very thin for the next five years.

My favourites were the astrakhan coats, a grey one and a black one. Astrakhan is one of the most evocative furs around. It brings to mind central Asia, where people have been wearing it for hundreds of years. If you go to the Uxbridge Road tomorrow, you will see many a dignified Pakistani gentleman in his shalwar-kameez and astrakhan hat shuffling contemplatively along. And it provokes, too. Three years ago astrakhan shot to fame when Stella McCartney attacked Madonna for wearing it. Quite rightly, it is perceived to be the most un-PC, non-big game fur around: it is made from unborn lambs. The debate over whether those lambs are stillborn or aborted keeps temperatures in the pro- and anti-fur camps high.

Is fur really necessary? As necessary as Handel's Messiah or the ha-ha -- in other words, not really; but life would undoubtedly be poorer without it. There is no other material that combines warmth and beauty in the way fur does. Of course there are plenty of sophisticated natural and synthetic fibres that have been developed to keep us warm, but not all of us want to look like Canadian skiing champions; not all of us like luminous, futuristic garb. A glorified macintosh will never replace the unique markings of a racoon or lynx pelt or, importantly, the feel of it: we just can't compete with nature.

Even in Russia, where last winter Muscovites endured temperatures of minus 35infinityC, fur-wearing is not an entirely practical exercise. Even there it is an expression of femininity, sexiness, luxury. Fur was reviled by the Bolsheviks, who erased it from the revolutionary aesthetic -- the new utilitarian look as invented by Lyubov Popova had no hint of fur anywhere (Lenin, however, couldn't quite resist and often sported a jaunty astrakhan hat). The backlash against that communist puritanism after perestroika was huge, and Russia is now one of the world's biggest importers of fur. However, Russia still holds one export trump card: the Russian sable -- still the most desirable fur around and a fittingly chic partner to Russia's other trump card, oil. Sable at auction costs between £200 and £500 per pelt and you need about 40 pelts to make a coat. Today the sight of a Masha or Natasha with her inimitable stormy pout and sable coat tantalisingly disguising two miles of perfect leg is simply a magnificent thing. I know many men who have lost their hearts, minds and wallets over it.

People often ask me if it is safe to wear fur again in this country. And my answer is:

yes, though to some extent it depends on who you are. In their heyday the anti-fur protesters tended to target rich middleaged-to-elderly women. They didn't attack young men in sheepskin coats or sexy rappers like Puff Daddy. That is because the war against the fur trade is, at least in part, as much a class war as an animal rights war.

Rather like the war on hunting, it is a statement against aesthetic elitism. …

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