In February 2011 two of the world’s greatest fashion designers graced the catwalks with iconic anniversary collections; each chose to lead with resplendent displays of super sculptural, voluminous fur. Frida Giannini unveiled Gucci’s 90th fall/winter 2011-12 range with a razor-sharp vision of ‘film noir in colour’ draped in cherry gloss and smoky lilac fox fur collars. Meanwhile, the New Yorker Michael Kors strolled into his fourth, fabulous decade presenting pragmatically glamorous classic fur coats in his celebration of American luxury. The message is clear: fur is here to stay.
Fur has been a high-currency textile since the Stone Age. During the Renaissance, fur, power and wealth were governed by sumptuary laws, which regulated and reinforced class and social hierarchy through restrictions on luxury goods. During the 14th and 17th centuries, the pelts of smaller, rarer animals were reserved for the nobility and coarser, more commonplace furs designated to the working classes. Ermine was, of course, the royal cut of choice. Now consumption is increasing exponentially; over 70 per cent in the last 15 years and UK demand rose by 40 per cent in the past year alone.
The reason that fur is now re-approaching something close to ubiquity is due in part to emerging markets, declares Vice President of the British Fur Trade Association Frank Zilberkweit, “Russia, China, Korea… They (the major design houses) have put an emphasis on fur because they want a product that’s interesting to those markets.” Men from 25 to 40 years old account for 50 per cent of luxury shopping in China; figures which go some way to explaining the rising role of directional fur menswear in the boutiques of Burberry, Pal Zileri and Gucci today.
Chairman of the British Fur Trade Association Philippe Deborceau remarks that fur has become increasingly sophisticated and therefore attractive. “The industry is doing things with fur that you could never have imagined 15 years ago.” Technical advances in dying, such as gradiating colours, processing and plucking skins to make them more lightweight… “Knitting and layering, particularly on fox fur, make it more flattering,” agrees Zilberkweit. Fox fur, alongside mink, remains the go-to pelt of choice.
Classic fur outerwear is being thoroughly and ingeniously explored this season. The classic gilet, for which fur can partly thank its 21st century renaissance, is strikingly realized in Kenzo’s astonishing collection. Inspired by an haute bohemian dream world featuring Frida Kahlo and the ‘virile delicacy of female artists with rebel souls’, Antonio Marras’ inspired use of rabbit and fox fur casts a devil-may-care patchwork of opulence in pieces taking new techniques in fur to an otherworldly extreme.
Elsewhere, Burberry’s signature mid brown cotton jersey fur contrast T-shirt and Boss Black’s rabbit and satin fabric mix fur shoe can in part trace their lineage to daring innovations by couture designers during the 1950s, such as Christian Dior, renowned for pioneering in this most tactile of textiles since he designed the fur-lined raincoat and began the mink tie trend.
“English gentlemen do not take kindly to the Continental monstrosities in the shape of horseskin, sheepskin, wolfskin, and variations of coats which have the hair, wool and fur outside.” Rather, reads the entry from an early 20th century Burberry catalogue, “The more distinguished form is to use the fur simply as a lining.”
How times have changed. In London, February 2011, snow fell from the ceiling of a magnificent neo-classical pavilion in Kensington Gardens onto a riotous parade of white mink and cable knit cashmeres; dark clove, black cashmere and wool aran knits. Meanwhile, in Milan, the rain pelted down. It was fortunate for the chiseled young males walking the Burberry Prorsum catwalk that they wore mink caban jackets and textured rabbit fur car coats to shield their rugged torsos – those signature black and white mink flat caps offering stylish protection from the elements.
You can restyle it, talk about it, recycle it and pass it down, from the mythical goddess Artemis to Louis XVII, The Sun King and La Belle Sauvage, fur has been worn as a symbol of power, glamour and luxury. The question is: what story will yours tell?
For the fur collections in store now, go to luxos.com/boutiques for London boutique listings