Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, what is the most vulgar of them all?
By Kaitlin McDonald and Grace Cooper
When people mention fur, tensions rise, thoughts are raised and debate begins. Is it vulgar? Is it wrong? Is it right?
On the 2017 London and Berlin: Fashion + Textiles Trend Safari, there was one common theme. Fur. In both cities there was a wide array of fur being worn in all different capacities. The fur look is on the rise. This observation developed at The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined exhibition at the Barbican Centre. It created a context for a conversation about real fur versus faux fur. What version of fur do you see as being the most vulgar?
The Vulgar exhibition discusses the ideas behind vulgarity, past and present. The exhibition defines vulgarity “like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder” (Clark, 2016, p. 89). The opinion of fur is ultimately in the possession of the viewer. Animal fur is one of the most primitive fibre composition that has centuries of ever-changing perception within society.
Fur, the epitome of luxury, status and wealth, but at what cost? Fur is a natural animal product that has been used since prehistoric times as it was the only option for warmth and fabrication. However, as time proceeds it has developed as a symbol of status and power, extending to Sumptuary Laws in the 1300’s and 1400’s (Mahe, 2011). These laws create tiers of exclusivity, delegating the rarity of furs to the royals and wealthy by leaving the furs of small critters to the lesser. These laws alone create a hierarchy, a tension and a divide which still remain today when discussing fur. “It acts out the scandal of entitlement, the pleasures it represents and the envy it creates. It is the theatre of ambition and kitsch is its celebration. It both fears and courts ridicule.” (Clark, 2016, p. 83). The Vulgar exhibitions shows how the use of fur in fashion creates a discussion and debate around the concept of vulgarity.
In today’s fur trends, the habitants of London and Berlin continue to wear fur, however there has been a shift from it being a status symbol to a necessity to cope with ever-changing weather conditions in cooler months. This idea was also discussed by founder of LNFA, Sevil in Bikini Berlin. Sevil states that fur is a necessity in the northern hemisphere as it can be your warmest jacket. This comment circles back to the primitive ages where fur was used out of necessity, however Sevil went onto discuss the rise of vintage fur which gives a second life to the fur coat. Is this vulgar? To kill animals for their fur to keep oneself warm, is this selfish? Or is the recycling of fur, more sustainable than creating an imitation?
“We have lost all ability to make sense of the distinction between nature and artificial” – Jean Boudrillard
Faux Fur, an impostor, replicating the beast of all fashion trends, the fur coat. The “Faux Fur Coat” or the “Vegan Coat” has been created as a way of contributing to the world’s rising trend of sustainability. With more and more companies producing faux fur products, they are supporting and acknowledging the work of animal rights organisations such as PETA Australia. In November 2016, Australian designer, Kym Ellery “announced that it will not use fur in future designs and it will withdraw all garments containing fur” (PETA Australia 2016, para. 3). The brand is banishing all fur items from their stores, online retailers and future collections. Ellery has showcased that by simulating real fur through the use of synthetic alternatives, customers can still buy into the exclusive and luxurious world that surrounds real fur, without destroying the lives of animals.
Faux fur is all about the look, creating a statement piece without costing the world physically and economically. Acrylic is a synthetic fibre that has been revived to create statement faux fur pieces. This particular fibre has poor thermal retention and poor electrical conductivity. The garment will provide the wearer with little to no warmth and builds static electricity. However, Acrylic has moderate resilience (subject to yarn types) which allows the garment to regain its original shape. The life of faux fur does not compare to the life of a natural fur coat. Faux fur demands a whole new garment to be produced, as it is unlikely to last an extended period of time. However, a genuine fur coat has the ability to last a lifetime. The coat can be passed down from generation to generation if properly cared for. Sevil of LNFA stated that her mother’s fur coat had been passed down to her. Sevil shortened the coat and added buttons, which prolonged the life of the garment.
“Designers have made a virtue of the copy, incorporating it into their idiom, celebrating the transmission of ideas through technological advances” – Clark, J. (2016)
FUR IN RETAIL
The rise in the fur trend has seeped out into visual merchandising strategies in the retail space. Stores, trade shows and concept stores, have all incorporated the use of either real fur or faux fur to create an atmosphere and send a message to their consumer. The Karl Lagerfeld store used a faux fur chair to create a sense of luxury but not alienate customers who may not like fur. However, concept space, BLESS used real fur to create an inviting and luxurious space for their clients.
This trend can also be tracked through the use of the website, EDITED. It has tracked a rise in real fur instead of faux fur in the 2016 period; whereas 2015 saw fewer natural fur products with more products in faux fur. This shows a slight crossover in the resurgence of real fur in retail for 2016.
In 2015 there were 317 real fur products available in the global retail space, whilst the figures for 2016 more than doubled 2015’s products. This growth shows how the trend of real fur is returning rapidly. This trend also consists in the product levels of faux fur with the 2015 period having 1615 products, and the 2016 period having a staggering amount of 3990 products available. This data consolidates that fur is on the rise but consumers are unsure which fur is more vulgar. The Mass market controls the majority of this trend, creating almost too much choice and inconsistency as to which is more vulgar. The vulgarity of fur is left to the consumer.
THE FUTURE OF FUR
Due to fur’s fundamental resource in society, whether its fake or natural, a statement piece or necessity, fur will be forever. The demand for fur products might dwindle from year to year but the trend will always return. The vulgarity of fur is what makes it a trend. Consumers buy into the vulgar world of fur, whether it is for the functional purpose of warmth, or because individuals believe that purchasing a real fur piece, will open the exclusive world of wealth, status and power. According to The Vulgar Fashion Redefined exhibition “once something can be copied, it can be made available and become popular; and the available and the popular can be stigmatised as vulgar” (Clark, 2016, p. 58) . As there is a trend surrounding vulgar fashion, there is a need for fur. There will be a never-ending cycle of products, that create an uncomfortable yet necessary purpose within fashion.
After reflecting on the research collected from our trend safari, we have noticed that fur in general is an emerging trend regardless of fibre composition, quality or look. One may consider either end of the spectrum a token of vulgarity, however, the perception of what is vulgar, is in the eye of the beholder.