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Armani’s decision to go fur-free shows younger generation he’s still a leader

The Italian fashion icon reignites debate on animal cruelty and exploitation – while consumers from Asia provide the fur industry with a boost

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 April, 2016, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 1:38pm

So 81-year-old Giorgio Armani, the longest-working and most famous of Italian fashion designers, with an empire worth US$6.2 billion (according to Forbes), has completely stopped using fur in his collections. In a move that was unexpected and widely lauded, an old-school fashion icon just schooled a much younger industry on how he can still be daring when it comes to his business.

“I’m pleased to announce that the Armani Group has made a firm commitment to abolish the use of animal fur in its collections. Technological progress made over the years allows us to have valid alternatives at our disposition that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary,” he said in a release.

Fashion giant Armani announces he’s going fur free this year

Armani joins the ranks of such brands as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood and ardent animal activist Stella McCartney (who uses no animal products at all) to ban fur. High-street brands like Zara, Topshop and H&M also have such a policy.

“Armani’s fur-free announcement makes it clear that designers and consumers can have creative freedom and luxury, without supporting animal cruelty,” said Joh Vinding, chairman of the Fur Free Alliance, in the same release.

Armani has shown that you can put principles ahead of profit and still be a fashion titan – better late than never, we say. As any designer knows, there is a big business in real fur, especially in developing markets such as China, Russia and Central Asia.

When I was in Paris this March, watching the autumn-winter 2016 shows, I was shocked by the number of big fur coats and massive fur trims on the catwalks. When, I wondered, did real fur, in such a bombastic iteration, become so fashionable again?

In the ’90s, fur was a dirty word in fashion. It didn’t seem that long ago that fashion’s biggest names were signing up for campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), stating that they’d “rather go naked than wear fur”. Remember that famous 1994 picture of Emma Sjöberg, Tatjana Patitz, Heather Stewart-Whyte, Fabienne Terwinghe and Naomi Campbell – all naked and coy with that slogan above them? Well, Naomi Campbell, for one, does wear fur now, and has even fronted campaigns for fur brands.

The list of celebrities featured in these sexy campaigns is quite staggering: Olivia Munn, Elisabetta Canalis, Khloe Kardashian, Wendy Williams, Pamela Anderson are all part of the fold. Today, a steady stream of leaked, secretly filmed videos documenting the shockingly cruel killing of animals in some fur farms has sparked outrage around the globe. So why is the fashion industry so adamant on reviving big furs?

Is it the impact of a celebrity culture that only celebrates excess and bling? Only partly. Though it might be a tempting proposition, the terrifying stylistic vortex that is Kanye and Kim and her extended family is not to blame for all fashion ills.

The big fur suppliers (who often argue their animals are “ethically” killed) have long courted fashion’s most famous designers, with luxurious trips to their headquarters and batches of free products. Getting these famous fashion names on board allows them to sell more to less famous fashion houses.

Despite the controversies of fur, sales are on the rise in recent years. British tabloid The Sun reported that Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, sold 21 million skins for a total of £1.4 billion (HK$15.4 billion) in 2014. The company’s website now reports rising sales in 2015-16, largely boosted by a influx of Chinese clients, including some from Hong Kong.

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Its February auction report says: “In the light of the approx. 400 attending customers with 200 customers from China and Hong Kong, the announcement was successful compared to the number of customers being present at the January auction.”

So there you have it. Armani has had a eureka moment in championing more ethical fashion. But brands and customers in this neck of the woods have delivered a vital boost to that industry. It’s not a subject we’re talking about enough in fashion in Asia, so it’s really time to do some soul searching. However people decide to create and consume here, they should make it at least an informed decision.