IT MAY BE 30 DEGREES Celsius in the shade, but Hong Kong is about to start spending heaps of money on something decidedly unseasonable. Fur. We're not just talking about standard-issue coats either. By next month, despite the soaring humidity levels, stores around town are going to be full of fur sweaters, fur bags, fur-trimmed boots, hats, scarves and even blankets. In what has to be one of the most peculiar fixations among big spenders in recent history, fur anything has acquired a new cachet - and those indulging in it don't really care about the political incorrectness and illogical nature of it all. At the autumn/winter fashion shows in New York earlier this year, top fashion editors and buyers - among them CNN's style doyenne Elsa Klensch, were splattered with red paint by animal-rights activists. Their bone of contention? Many of the shows featured fur, in quantities and varieties more numerous than in the past, as designers exploited the new ostentatious mood in fashion and the fact that their customers haven't been quite this spendthrift since the cash-deluged 80s. The trend carried on to the Milan and Paris catwalks. And Hong Kong being the copycat capital that it is, retailers are banking on fur being the hot new must-have item of next season - as it is predicted to be on the Rue Faubourg St Honore or Via Montanapoleone. We're not talking about cheap Chinese rabbit fur either. Chinchilla, sable, mink and even weasel are being hawked by stores around town, in a bid to cash in on the upturn in spending. Prices in the hundreds of thousands are not uncommon. 'We have tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of fur,' says Eva Shum, divisional merchandising manager for Joyce. 'Because of the amount of media attention fur has been getting lately, we have a very strong line.' At Celine, general manager Nicole Wang has bought a $300,000 sable coat, which she is confident will sell in no time. Lane Crawford has already sold out of a small shipment of fox fur blankets backed with cashmere - which went for $28,000 each. At Louis Vuitton, a mink zipper-front pullover, fashioned to look as homely as corduroy, carries a price-tag of 'less than $100,000' says store manager Ophelia To. 'Of course they will sell,' she says. Mind-numbing prices for the vanity of fur-wearing include down coats trimmed with chinchilla ('perfect for apres-ski', says Shum) which can cost up to $28,000, or denim jeans trimmed with fur from Celine for $25,000, or Dior's monstrously priced sable coat for $450,000. Retailers say they are catering to customer demand, and that the anti-fur brigade should be appeased by the fact that the pelts used by designers are from ranch-reared animals, killed in a 'humane' way. 'At one stage there was a lot more anti-fur sentiment,' says a spokeswoman for Gucci. 'But now people are more open, and are wearing it again.' The famously hip Italian brand has made fur jackets in a herringbone pattern, or rabbit fur pieces with the double-G logos sliced through them, or shaded mink handbags. 'A few of our customers are already asking for the pieces, so we have brought in a limited quantity,' she says, adding that some of the herringbone-patterned jackets will be around the $100,000 mark. Basically, the idea is to buy fur that doesn't look like fur. Sheared mink is as sleek as velvet, and shearling can look like fluffy wool. 'It's 32 degrees outside,' says perennially photographed socialite Fanny Ma. 'I haven't thought about it yet.' She appears to be the only one. Most other fashionable women have already started asking for fur, and many say they will definitely buy once the autumn merchandise is in stores. 'I've picked up some from Celine already, and am very keen on the fur collars from Prada,' says Lisa Young, an executive with Internet start-up I-ncubate. 'It [the anti-fur sentiment] doesn't bother me I guess because I live in Hong Kong. I'd be more cautious if I was in New York or London. And I don't really wear major fur pieces, just fun things.' In the past, she has spent around $15,000 on a 'fun and cute' pink and black fur jacket. In the next couple of months, she plans to augment her wardrobe with more fur, possibly from Dolce & Gabbana or one of the other hot brands; Young says her budget is 'within the $50,000 price range'. Well-heeled customers may take a cavalier attitude towards fur-buying, and designers and retailers may justify its production, but animal-rights activists are holding firm. 'We are against fur,' says Amy Chow, senior manager of PR and communications at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) 'It's not a necessity, it's an absolute luxury. Often, you need to kill many animals in order for one person to wear a coat. In a modern city like Hong Kong or anywhere in the world, here are so many methods to keep warm, that there is no need to kill an animal just for a coat.' Like other anti-fur campaigners, Chow is not swayed by the 'humane' argument. 'It still involves many cruelties. If people like the beauty of fur, there are perfect substitutes. It's down to a basic principle. It's not a matter of a human being's life or death, but it's an animal's life or death,' she says. The SPCA is hoping to initiate awareness programmes as the fashion season gets into full swing. 'We want people to think twice before buying,' she says. But Joyce's Shum says the anti-fur movement in Hong Kong is almost non-existent. 'We don't see such a strong reaction here. People here are fashion-conscious and they are willing to buy. We're not really worried about it.' The trend seems to be as prevalent in men's fashion as in the women's arena. 'There seems to be more of it,' says Morten Christensen, regional sales manager for Hugo Boss in Asia. For next season, the German brand is combining leather with fur, lining the inside of jackets with fur, or a trim here and there. 'It's not a big part of the collection, but it is important,' Christensen says, adding that prices were around the $10,000 mark. Jane Law, a socialite and the wife of a real estate tycoon, says she scours through international magazines for the latest fur trends, and pounces. 'Usually I like fox and mink,' she says. 'But this season it seems that casual fur is very popular.' She has already ordered a trendy fur jacket from the Bazar de Christian Lacroix label, which she reckons was a steal at $4,000. And she's on the lookout for something 'more formal and expensive' she can wear to Christmas parties. 'People should see the fun side of it,' says Nicole Wang of Celine, which is also selling knitted fur sweaters and fur accessories. Fur pieces comprise about 15 per cent of Celine's autumn line. The top item at Swank is a red fur cardigan - so sleek it looks like wool - from Valentino, priced at $79,995. Rita Chan, Swank's women's buyer says the new 'ladylike' look in fashion provided the impetus towards fur-buying. 'I'm sure we'll be getting orders from our customers,' says Chan. 'They are well-informed by all the magazines, and they are tasteful ladies.' So tasteful, in fact, that they have reportedly already put their names down for pale yellow or pink jackets from Roberto Cavalli, or Gianfranco Ferre's fur shawls, or rabbit handbags from Sonia Rykiel shaped like bowling bags and dyed in yellows, pinks and purples, retailing from $4,000 to $8,000. There are fur capelets in orange, and long-haired fur cardigans in electric blue, and, from Plein Sud, fur jackets with leather lining and trim, priced from $20,000 to $89,000. Bonnie Brooks, senior vice-president of sales and marketing at Lane Crawford says that both furs and exotic skins will rule the fashion market for next season. The store has just opened an exotic skins corner selling ostrich, lizard and crocodile fashion items, carrying labels to say they are from farm-controlled animals. In 12 days, the corner sold 134 ostrich shoulder bags, at $3,800 each. 'We caught a sense of this in the market, and decided to get into it,' says Brooks. 'In the past, sheared mink would have been only for the extremely wealthy. But now, because of new technology, we are seeing that luxury is becoming more affordable - you can get a mink-trimmed accessory or sweater in the $5,000 to $15,000 range.' But how often will a woman have the opportunity to wear a sable-trimmed cashmere sweater, or a man a Mongolian lamb jacket, in this hot and humid city? 'It's not about the cold, it's about fashion,' she says. 'We can't really confuse practicalities with fashion. Fashion is about excitement, luxury, pampering yourself, the small indulgences.'