It used to be that only the rich and the slavishly brain-dead devotees of the so-called ‘luxury’ brands clung on to their ‘right’ to wear fur. Take the famous and now late fashion icon Isabella Blow, so revered by millennial fashion students. She used to work for me on The Sunday Times, and insisted on the services of an assistant to accompany her, cocooned as she was in her habitual fur coat, to the Tube station at Tower Hill in case someone called her names, or threw paint on her.
Fur was normal in such circles. I remember going to interview Michael Kors at his atelier in New York and calling him out on his liberal use of fur. Why, I asked him, as a keen African safari goer and dog lover, did he find it hard to see the irony of using pelts in his collections? I remember being inside the atelier of Dior in Paris and showing a Peta video of a fox being skinned to the then creative director, John Galliano. He was so moved, he almost cried, but still he put fur hats on the models for his next collection.
But oh, how the world of high fashion has changed. Gucci, Michael Kors, Versace, Burberry, Chanel, Prada and, in February this year, Global Brands Group, which owns Aquatalia, and holds licences for Calvin Klein and All Saints, have all sworn off fur, for good. Others, including Chanel, have vowed to ban exotic skin. Unfortunately, despite this high-end sea change, not only does the UK still allow the import and sale of real fur, it seems animals prized for their pelts have a brand new and far more crusty enemy. The eco brigade, who are proclaiming that real fur and real leather are more ‘natural’ than the synthetic alternatives: they use less energy to produce, they are biodegradable. Never mind that the leather industry in India is inherently cruel, a huge polluter, and damages the health of its workers. A study found cancer prevalent among tannery workers in Sweden and Italy.
Okay, let’s talk about what on earth is ‘natural’ about the annual seal cull in Canada. I flew there in the spring of 2007 to document the hunt for the Daily Mail. The seal hunters, who had guns and hakapiks – a hammer to crush the babies’ skulls, a hook to drag them – swiftly placed a restraining order on me, as someone who wielded only a Biro and a notebook, forbidding me from getting within 500 yards of them. I took a helicopter with a young woman from the Humane Society of the United States; she kept trying to land, testing the ice with the landing kit, but deemed it too thin to take our weight. Global warming meant the ice was so patchy, tens of thousands of pups, who should be born on ice, slipped into the water and drowned. But still the hunt took place, ‘harvesting’ 180,000 new-born white coats. I imagine the ice is now as fragile as lace, but even so, the toll in Canada last year was 30,000.
I can’t get the sound of the mother seals, who had dived into the water in fear as the huntsmen approached, returning after the kill and calling for their babies. The small pink bodies had been left in a steaming pile, yet still the mothers searched for their offspring. Tell me this, dear eco warriors, do you really want to live in a world where this still happens? Who wants to live on a morally bankrupt planet?