Fur isn't just for a trip to church anymore. It's still used in heavy jackets but is also appearing as scarves and decorative trim. Animal rights groups want to make sure consumers know what animal became a stole.
This fox at the Opel Zoo is safe from becoming someone's scarf
There was a time when fur in Germany was associated with heavy older woman getting dressed up for church or a coffee-and-cake afternoon. But, not anymore. Germans of all ages and sizes are now increasingly snuggling into the fluffy material.
After suffering from two years of decline, the German fur industry grew by 2.5 percent to €965 million ($1.266 million) in 2004, and fur is back on catwalks and market squares all around Europe.
Furs for everyone?
Long, heavy, dark jackets are being replaced by lighter more colorful fur
"Fur is selling well, but it is not the classical fur many are used to," said Susanne Kolb-Wachtel, general manager of the German Fur Association. "It has become lighter, more colorful and even peppy."
There will be even more light and lively uses of fur on display this week when the 57th Fur and Fashion Frankfurt tradeshow opens Wednesday, Kolb-Wachtel said.
Fur's image transformation from dowdy apparel to hot outfit, could be expected to have made life tougher for animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and its efforts to prohibit fur farms around the world. But the group, which is planning a demonstration during the Frankfurt convention, doesn't see a major fur revival and points out that many German departments stores no longer carry fur products.
H&M is one of the chains that has decided to stop selling fur
"The fur comeback is exaggerated," said Jürgen Faulmann, a PETA campaign leader. "It is a perversion for the super rich who do not know what to do with their money and pay thousands for a fur coat."
That's where Kolb-Wachtel disagrees. Fur is still a luxury item compared to other less expensive materials, but there are more types of fur in more price classes than ever. The change in fur styles, and prices, are key reasons why the average fur buyer's has dropped from 45-plus to 25-plus, she said.
Designers return to animal pelts
Whether destined for young or old, streetwear shops or upscale boutiques, designers are willing to work with the controversial material again. In winter collections presented in Europe recently fox stoles were used to embellish evening gowns and copious amounts of animal pelt went into a mink bomber jacket.
Fur has returned to the catwalk in a big way
"We never did fur before this season," Cat Bresaola spokesperson Gharani Strok told reporters at the London Fashion Week in mid-February. "But we've had to design it to cater to the Russian market."
Russia and China are the reasons why some designers have started kitting out their models in animal pelts again. The two countries are the new target markets, and they're looking for something stylish and warm.
"There are two distinct markets in both Russia and China," Kolb-Wachtel said. "The rich, who are looking for the most fashionable furs and the people who live in cold areas and want something long and warm to wear."
Where did the fox boa come from?
In the face of fur's rising sales and acceptance, it's the people looking to stay warm, whether in Germany or abroad, animal rights activists want to target. While pointing out that there are warmer synthetic materials designed for frigid conditions, PETA is also launching new initiative to make sure people know what used to wear the fur on their back.
"The media has made many people think that wearing fur isn't a crime," Faulmann said. "With our new theme we want to show people the parts of the fox that is left over when the its fur is gone."
German actress Franka Potente and musician Bela B. pose for PETA's "I'd would rather wear tattoos than fur" campaign
Some people, like Verena Pirchner, whose jacket's cotton trim -- to the untrained eye -- looks like a closely shorn mink, don't need any more convincing.
"I think it's terrible that people are still wearing fur," said the 24-year-old student from Bonn. "My mother inherited a fur coat from her mother but never wears it. I wouldn't wear it either."
European and state oversight
German fur farms are subject to supervision from the country's individual states, which can issue orders regarding animal handling and slaughter. How effective the orders are at improving animals' living conditions is disputable.
"It is not possible to understand why the order, which should have improved conditions for fur-bearing animals, to this day is not being enforced," said Wolfgang Apel, president of the German Animal Protection Association, of a 2001 state order in Schleswig-Holstein.
The German Fur Association's Kolb-Wachtel said she was proud of German fur farmers' willingness to invest in ways to keep animals from suffering, including larger cages, safe toys to keep them occupied and shorter transportation times before slaughter.
Customers reading labels and thinking twice
Consumers who want to know what they're paying for have to rely on the garment's label to know what animals there fur comes from, Kolb-Wachtel said. And people are examining those labels, and thinking twice before buying a fur.
"I definitely gave it a lot of thought," said Ute Krieg, from the west German city of Koblenz, of her decision to buy a rabbit fur coat. "I would not want to wear anything that was tormented."