Fox, Chinchilla, Fisher, Nutria, Sable, Lynx and Mink. Just some of the most common types of fur used in what is considered a highly controversial industry today. But while animal rights activists protest outside international fashion shows (as they did recently at Burberry’s London Fashion Week), and consumers demand transparency it doesn’t stop designers from putting fur on the runway.
In 2015, Fendi showcased a collection made entirely from fur signalling Karl Lagerfeld’s 50th anniversary with the luxury label. And they’ve reached for their furry friends yet again ahead of Spring 2018, alongside Diane Von Furstenberg who also featured lush fur accents in her Spring 2018 collection.
Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that fur is part of social history. Some even argue that fur has been integral to the evolution of mankind.
Worn as a signal of wealth and social status, the fur trade began in the sixteenth century. Skins and pelts (including leopard and lion skins) were worn by Egyptian Kings and High Priests during symbolic ceremonies as early as 3000BC. Some even believed that furs and skins had magical powers that could be endowed upon the wearer.
But today, fur in fashion is a statement of nothing more than excess. The controversy lies not only in the hands of the designers producing it, but also those who are buying garments made from fur.
Dunedin-based Jane Avery is an unashamed advocate of fur. She understands the controversy but says doing it sustainably and ethically is what matters most.
“I personally have a problem with faux fur, which is made from petrochemicals,” she says. “There’s enough plastics and fake synthetic stuff in this world.”
A former Aucklander, Avery left a media career for a slower paced life in the South Island. She launched her label, Lapin, (French for “rabbit”) a few years ago, and says it was the pitter-patter of tiny feet - furry ones - that triggered the idea for her clothing line.
“Here’s this resource that’s jumping around our country destroying native plants, habitat and good farming country and it’s not being used. It’s a dreadful pest on the land and it’s very hard to get rid of,” she says.
Avery can't see why people should have a problem with rabbit fur when possum products are widely accepted in New Zealand.
The designer uses the furs as accents on coats and jackets. And the garments are locally made. The rabbit fur, she says, is a by-product of the restaurant and pet food industries and she handpicks the furs from an Invercargill-based tannery.
“I feel morally sound in my decision to do this. These are wild rabbits - they’re having a wonderful time digging and eating and having sex and multiplying...and then bang, they’re dead.”
The thought might send shivers up your spine, but Avery is resolute about her approach as a self-confessed animal lover. She sees her efforts to use the fur as a means to combat a very big problem.
Rabbits were first introduced to New Zealand in the early nineteenth century for food and sport but quickly became a pest with exploding populations. They infiltrated large sheep stations, impacting productivity and destroying land - some of which has never recovered.
Up until the 1950s, New Zealand had a large meat canning and fur exporting industry and Avery doesn’t see why this can’t happen again. She’s still finding a market for her rabbit fur garments and has her sights set on international markets.
“I don’t think it’s sustainable here,” she says.
Lapin coats retail upwards of NZ$5,000, sitting at the luxury end of the fashion market.
“I’m not icky about this. It just makes sense to me. When the last rabbit is gone from this land I’ll do something else and I don’t have any problem with that,” she says.
Check out previous episodes of RNZ's fashion podcast My Heels Are Killing Me