LOS ANGELES — A funny thing happened on the way to the fur salon: The fur was forgotten. Designers instead turned to polymer chemists for a substitute that could please fur-coveting consumers and possibly assuage a few concerns of animal rights activists.
This fall, some of the most eye-catching jackets and accessories incorporate realistic fake fur or are made from other materials with textures reminiscent of fur.
“It’s really about the tactile nature of the season,” said Colleen Sherin, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, speaking about the fall trend. “We’re even seeing things happening in knitwear where the yarn is cut specifically for a furry effect.”
Stores and online sites, including high-end designer brands and mass-market retailers, are full of garments with materials that look like mink, cheetah or beaver.
Even at the high end, fake fur is being used widely by designers who note the improved quality and realistic nature of materials coming from Europe and Japan. These imported materials allow for more versatility in design, not to mention lower costs compared with real fur. Consider: Designer Naeem Khan includes a full-length faux fur mink coat in his line for HSN that sells for about $900. The real thing would cost upward of $10,000.
Think of it as high faux.
The trend has been bubbling up for a couple of years. Chanel based its fall 2009 show around fake fur, producing get-ups reminiscent of woolly mammoths that seemed suitable for a dinner party at the North Pole. The Prada fall 2011 runway included a mix of real and faux fur adorning jackets in bold and offbeat colors such as yellow, teal and purple.
It’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between real and fake, said Dan Mathews, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has opposed the killing of animals and manufacture of fur in high-profile campaigns for many years.
Mathews cites a major uptick in fake fur sales over the last several years and says that fewer celebrities are choosing to wear real fur as more high-end designers offer garments made from synthetic material. Still, he is concerned that the look and feel of the new realistic fakes could perpetuate people’s desire for the real thing.
Consumers will encounter the high-faux look on items including boots, bags, coats and vests. At the wholesale level, sales of fake fur reached $250 million in the United States last year and those sales are expected to increase by 30 percent over the next two years, according to Pell Research, a Washington, D.C., firm that identifies new markets and trends for major companies.
“The fur trend in the U.S. is toward fake,” said Amy Lechner, an analyst with Pell Research. “The stigma of fake fur is rapidly decreasing.”
Indeed, fake fur used to be known for its cheap, matted quality, but today designers are seeing it as a desirable fabric, a category unto itself not solely meant to mimic real fur.
“It’s all about a fashion statement and creating a look, just like you would with any other fabric,” said designer Dennis Basso, who works with real fur in his ready-to-wear line, but also creates a robust faux fur collection for his Dennis by Dennis Basso Collection for QVC. “You’re able to do some things with faux fur you can’t do with real fur. Like, you would never make something in real leopard or cheetah. Women will buy something in faux not just for how realistic it seems but because of the look and design. It was originally made to imitate fur, but today it stands on its own.”
Macy’s is planning to stock more fake fur this fall than in seasons past, including from top-selling brands such as INC and Michael Kors, says Caprice Willard, vice president and regional planning manager for the department store chain. “We’re introducing [fake fur] not just in ready to wear, but also with shoes, boots, belts and handbags,” said Willard, who adds that this season’s garments are cut to look more modern and less boxy than traditional real-fur items. Coats are slimmer, waists are nipped in or belted and silhouettes are more flattering overall.
Faux fur vests and accessories have been bestsellers on HSN, according to the direct response retailer’s fashion director, Lauren Wilner. “Vests do really well, as do cropped jackets,” she said. “Leopard is the biggest seller. Actually leopard print across the board is really great for us.”
Khan’s fake fur collection, which HSN will start marketing in November, will include “mink” coats with shawl collars and “cheetah” vests, all made from fake fur from Tissavel, a French manufacturer that has been making it since the ’50s and is known within the textile industry as having high-quality fiber and finishing techniques, as well as an anti-shed technology to keep “fur” from shedding.
“The impact of how many designers were showing [fake fur] in their fall collections was huge,” said Anna Lemessurier, senior product developer of handbags for Aldo, which has used fake fur on boots, bags, ear muffs, gloves, belts and hats for fall.
Judging by the wide array of fake fur items hitting stores for fall, this season faux is the real deal.
Neither hide nor hair
Clothing and accessories that use fake fur and exotic skins are available in a range of prices. Here’s a list of lines and brands whose offerings feel more fine than faux:
Fake fur is showing up on just about every kind of accessory that’s offered by this Canada-based retailer, including shoes, bags, ear muffs, scarves, belts and hats. And the result is surprisingly stylish, with prices ranging from $18 to $60. A backpack with “rabbit” pockets is especially chic and adds a little texture to an otherwise sporty staple; the Aldo “Pursel” backpack is $55.
The L.A.-based brand is known for an earthy boho vibe. Its selection of fake-fur vests and coats for fall carries out that aesthetic and adds lots of texture to an ensemble. The Burning Torch Desert Fox reversible Faux Fur vest is $386.
Snake-skin prints are popping up this season, especially on shoes and bags. Dance-wear company Bloch is marketing several styles of dainty flats in a textured faux-leather snake print. Faux snake shoes range from $145 to $236; the reptile oxford is $145.
Dennis by Dennis Basso Collection
New York-based Basso, who has been designing his collection for QVC for the last 18 years, used fake fur from the start. His accessories and home wear (“chinchilla” blankets and hats) consistently are bestsellers. Prices range from $29 to $199; the Dennis by Dennis Basso Collection faux fur jacket $190.
Timeless by Naeem Khan
Khan will launch a line of all faux-fur jackets, full-length coats and vests for HSN in mid-November. Prices range from $99 for a scarf to $999 for a long fake-fur coat; the Timeless by Naeem Khan Ocelot printed vest is $449.90.
Everyday Exotics by Raven Kauffman
Designer Raven Kauffman is no stranger to luxurious accessories. Her couture collection of handbags and belts hits the higher end of the price scale, and her purses are carried on the red carpet by a bevy of celebs. But this season she has shifted some of her focus to creating items done in a hand-cast rubber for a collection called Everyday Exotics. The “skins” are hand-poured, molded and painted to look convincingly like crocodile or alligator and stitched together with recycled ultra-suede. The bags are vegan and water-resistant, which makes them more flexible than bags made of skin. Prices also are less precious than for the real thing. Bags range from $295 to $695.
The fur flies, and no animals are harmed
The stigma once attached to fake fur — it had a reputation as being thick, matted and sticky — has mostly diminished. In fact, the material has evolved into something that looks and feels rather luxurious.
Two of the most cited manufacturers of “high faux” are France-based Tissavel, which has been making fake fur since the 1950s and supplies Chanel and Prada with custom-made material, and New York-based Tiger J, which makes fake fur for Naeem Khan, Dennis Basso, Rachel Zoe and Adrienne Landau’s lines.
Generally, fake fur starts with the manufacture of synthetic fibers that are then sewn onto a polyester backing. This process is fairly consistent throughout the whole industry, and the quality of the fibers makes the biggest difference in look and feel.
Tiger J design director Guillaume Poupart says there are two main characteristics of high-quality fake fur: softness and resilience (meaning the fibers bounce back to their original form after being touched). In addition, a higher density of fibers is usually equated with a higher quality.
“It gives faux fur a more realistic look and adds to the softness,” said Poupart, who acknowledges that there can be too much of a good thing — too many fibers per square inch can produce an unpleasantly stiff garment.
Machines are used to give the material the look of, say, cheetah or mink. Material is sheared to make fibers the right length, and heat is often applied to the faux fur to coax it to lie in a certain direction (similar to the way a blow dryer works on hair). Dying helps to achieve a realistic look and sometimes involves seven or eight layers of color. Brushing is the final step in the process, adding the softness most people expect of fur — faux or real.
“We look at pictures and swatches to try and get as close as possible,” Poupart said. Mink, he adds, is one the hardest furs to replicate because of its luxurious length and coloring.
“At this point we can pretty much re-create any fur that exists,” Poupart said, although that’s not always aesthetically desirable. “We’ve pretty much covered the whole animal kingdom, but thankfully there’s not much demand for black bear.”