Fabrics and Textiles: The Connotations of Fur

Fabrics and Textiles: The Connotations of Fur

Céline, AW11, Paris.

Of all the fabrics that are used for fashion collections, animal fur is surely the most politicised of them all. Despite this fact, fur was used in the recent Autumn Winter collections in a number of ways.

This is not a forum for the debate on the use of fur, as that is a matter for people who have more knowledge and understanding of the issue than can be offered here, especially in regards to the treatment of the animals involved. For the catwalk images below, we do not know which designers have used real fur or fake fur but it is still worth considering the ways that fur was used in the recent collections and the references surrounding its use. Maybe by considering the contexts of the fur designs we will have a better understanding of what fur actually means to us and why some designers and consumers are reluctant to give it up.

There appeared to be different moods surrounding the collections which used fur this season. At Ann Demeulemeester the use of fur seemed to return to a very primal place, whereby it represented fur as protection against the elements, as a part of basic human survival.  This use of fur tied into some of the other tribal references in the collection – hunting tools for food, and animal skins as shelter and warmth. There was a sense in the styling of the collection that there was something quite animal about the models themselves. They were not wearing animal furs as a symbol of some sort of hunting trophy, but almost more as a sort of camouflage to better blend into the surrounding wilderness.

Ann Demeulemeester, AW11, Paris.

At Alexander McQueen, there was perhaps less of a reference to an ancient tribe and more of a sense of an ancient civilisation at war. There were styling references to armour in the metal hair clips, and the leather harnesses resembled some sort of battlewear fit for military queens. The fur in this collection seemed to be almost an aid for intimidating the opponent, as though the fur and towering heels increased the size and stature of the wearers, like an animal raised up to its full height before attacking its prey.

Alexander McQueen, AW11, Paris.

It was at Céline and Miu Miu that fur appeared in it’s most classically “fashion” form, as a symbol of wealth and luxury. But it was only used in small amounts, as a token coat at Celine and as a rare shrug or handbag at Miu Miu. There was a sense at Miu Miu that the use of fur was a little bit of a retro throw back to a time when wearing fur had less negative connotations – when fuel guzzling cars, nicotine filled cigarettes and mink stoles were not as politically incorrect as they are today.

Miu Miu, AW11, Paris.

At Alexander Wang the use of fur was presented with a very different attitude and a much more rock and roll aesthetic when fur jackets and sunglasses were paired with glittery, skinny trousers. On Style.com» Wang was quoted as saying “We’re almost poking fun at decadence and luxury”, which was surely the same up yours message the Rolling Stones were sending when they were wearing fur in the 60s and 70s. Wearing fur in that era seemed to say that it was no longer reserved for the old-money, luxury set – those living fast and dying young were having just as much fun wrapping themselves up in big fur coats and lazing around in decadent mansions.

Mick Jagger, photographed by David Bailey, 1964.

Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg.

Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg, Gram Parsons, Photographed by Dominique Tarlé while The Rolling Stones were recording “Exile on Main St.” at the Villa Nellcôte in the south of France.

Alexander Wang, AW11, New York.

At Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs the play on furs’ luxury associations was done using oversized proportions and rich jewel tones. At Louis Vuitton, models appeared to saunter into the foyer of a very expensive hotel, like high paid escorts or mistresses who’ve been given sumptuous fur as gifts. The whole collection had a subversive, sexual tone and in essence the use of fur seemed to be focused on pleasure, and the fact that soft furs are so incredible to touch.

Louis Vuitton, AW11.

Marc Jacobs, AW11, New York.

At Prada the use of fur and snakeskin seemed to be so oversized and colourful that it almost abstracted it away from being anything to do with real animal skin at all, almost like some sort of Flintstones take on wearing fur. At times the textures seemed to be almost more like an interior fabric for some sort of crazy sixties pad. The vibrant green of a jacket with fur lapels started to look more like some sort of astroturf and the thick wooly texture of some jackets seemed to resemble thick shag pile carpets.

Prada, AW11, Milan.

Like any fabric, designers give fur meaning by placing it in different contexts. Furs power on the fashion industry is based on the fact that it holds so many subconscious references – it reminds us of warmth, of luxury, or stardom. Sometimes it appeals to our animal sides, our more basic instincts. At times we don’t even see it as being linked to another life form, but just enjoy it for being a soft rich texture.

PETA advertisement by David Lynch.

For some people, wearing fur does not represent any of these things, but is a symbol of cruelty to animals. There are those who believe that synthetic furs are ok, while there are others who still resent the connotations involved in wearing even fake fur. But there are also those who are pro-fur, who seek to educate people about different ways of farming fur. The fashion industry has at this stage reached no consensus on this issue, there are very public advertising campaigns, such as those by PETA (above), which speak against the use of fur and there are designers who continue to use fur and fur substitutes as a part of their collections.

This is not to offer a definitive answer on this issue by any means, but obviously fur should not be used without an awareness of the issues involved, or without careful consideration of what using fur can say about your designs from both a political and a historical point of view.

Catwalk images from Vogue.co.uk»

Image of Mick Jagger from BBC»

Image of Richards, Pallenberg and Parsons from FormatMagazine»

PETA advertisement from Ads of the World»

Image of Richards and Pallenberg originally from Shumaq’sBlog. (Editors Note: Please note that this link had expired when checked on 7/10/12 and has been removed.)

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