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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Designers Send Fur Flying Down the Catwalks

NEW YORK -- Perhaps it started in the spring, when the fashion model Naomi Campbell, who once posed nude for an advertisement that read "I'd rather go naked than wear fur," strolled down the Fendi runway draped in a sable-lined coat from the Italian fashion house. Or maybe it was this fall, when all the important American retail fashion directors announced they were buying something with fur. But what surely sealed it was the September issue of Vogue, whose cover featured a baby-blue Mongolian lamb jacket.

Fashion is once again placing its bets on fur, so recently a pariah in the industry.

Fashion magazines have sold more pages advertising fur this fall than they have in recent memory. Vogue sold 28 pages of fur ads for its fall issues, the most in a decade, said its publisher, Ronald A. Galotti. At Harper's Bazaar, fall fur ads for 1997 are up 87 percent from last year and are also at a 10-year high.

In the September issue of W magazine, the fashion directors of Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale's and Barneys New York all praised fur -- the first such group hug in years.

And maybe most striking, many more designers, often up-and-comers, now use fur in their collections, and in dozens of new ways. Indeed, 42 designers worked with fur in 1985, while nearly 160 do today, said Stephanie Kenyon, spokeswoman for the Fur Information Council. And they make far more than coats.

Fur is now used as trim on suits, woven through evening gowns and fashioned into handbags. The designer Michael Kors even sent a mink hooded sweatshirt down the runway last spring.

The rebirth of the fur business traces its roots to an odd confluence of circumstances, from a stronger economy and an expanding number of affluent people to growing annoyance with the tactics of anti-fur protesters to a mercurial swing in fashion and life styles, both of which have moved steadily from simplicity to conspicuous consumption.

To be sure, those who stand firmly against fur are enraged about the fashion industry's new embrace.

"Fur is not back," insisted Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "We are pretty flabbergasted that the fashion press has picked up on the fur industry's constant barrage."

The emergence of new designers can be credited almost entirely to the fur industry itself, which spent millions of dollars reaching out to them, teaching them how to work with fur, modernize dowdy looks and convince the trend-obsessed fashion press that fur is once again hip.

The fashion press is an essential part of the equation: it gives the green light on trends to retailers, who in turn buy from designers, who then buy advertisements in the fashion press. All these players seem determined to bring back fur from its very public downfall at the beginning of the decade, when fur-draped matrons were doused with paint as they emerged from Macy's.

Already, fur sales in the United States have crept back from a 1991 low of $987 million, to $1.25 billion last year. Though that is far below the 1987 peak of $1.8 billion, retailers around the country are confident that a rebound is under way.