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Pelted with abuse

Despite '80s activism, fur is back — and raking it in


By Melissa Wilson

In 1994, five of the world's hottest supermodels dropped their panties and proclaimed they'd rather go naked than wear fur. The flashy ads, which ran in major magazines including Newsweek and People, were the weapons of choice for the anti-fur firing squads at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which spent the better part of the 1980s campaigning against fur.

In addition to those ads, Melissa Karpel, PETA campaign coordinator, and her troops used shocking videos and live demonstrations to "educate and show that cruelty is not fashionable." By the early 1990s, her efforts had made donning fur about as socially acceptable as idling a gas-guzzling SUV in 2008.

But over a decade later, four of the five supermodels have returned to their pelt-wearing ways, global fur sales reached a record US$15 billion in 2007 and the once-roaring anti-fur movement has been quelled to a whisper.

Fur started to make its comeback in the late '90s, explains Alan Herscovici, executive vice president of the Fur Council of Canada, in part because of a stronger dollar. "Fashion often refl ects the economy," he says, arguing that fur's hard times in the early '90s had as much to do with the recession as with animal-rights activists.

Herscovici also attributes the fading of vegan militancy with a more knowledgeable public. Media outlets that once took PETA's word as gospel started doing their own research, while websites like petakillsanimals.com exposed the group's hypocrisies—PETA kills more strays than it saves and it and similar groups often misrepresent videos of animal torture. This led some closeted fur wearers to rebel against PETA's often-sanctimonious sensationalism.

Wendi Ricci, who teaches fur design at Ryerson University, explains that the fur business began battling back against its bad rap with fur-friendly publicity campaigns that targeted those easily swayed by PETA's tactics. More recently, it jumped on the eco train with Fur Is Green, an online campaign that promotes fur as environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Fur products themselves have also gotten a sort of makeover, with designers turning out younger, hipper styles.

Despite fur's resurgence, Karpel insists that the "gloves are off and we're still going strong" in the anti-fur crusade. But PETA and their ilk have quite the melee ahead of them. If the newsstands' fashion glossies are any indication, fur isn't just back — it's here to stay.

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