• SmartMoney

Fur Chief On Peta, Fifth Avenue Clientele

Talking Shop: You may have noticed reading the Sunday fashion pages that fur has been experiencing a renaissance on catwalks. It’s a $13 billion global industry. Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier and Oscar de la Renta all incorporated fur in their designs for Fall/Winter 2011.

International Fur Trade Federation

Designers, department stores and consumers are slowly adding fur pieces to their collections.

Andy Lenhart, 69, Chairman for the International Fur Trade Federation for the last 10 years, is partly responsible for that. A teenage Lenhart joined his family’s furrier business in Frankfurt, Germany in 1961 when his father died.

He says the average price of mink skin has seen a 112% rise over the last 10 years, helped by new markets of China and Russia. Lenhart spoke to Pay Dirt by telephone from the recent fur auctions in Copenhagen, Denmark.

How is the U.S shopper holding up?

“The U.S. had a financial crisis in the last two years and consumers there react very quickly. It’s getting better now and, of course, the cold winter helps. American buying by retailers in the fur sales in Hong Kong and Milan was also stronger than previous years.”

Do you think fur coats are still associated with wealthy, older women?

“The fur industry always lives off its image of value. There is more vintage fur being worn by young people. You cannot only live off rich women on Fifth Avenue. It’s very nice to have them, but that can’t be all.”

The industry is re-branding itself for consumers as responsible and environmentally friendly, but there are chemicals involved in fur manufacturing.

When you talk about fake fur or artificial fur, of course it is made out of oil products; of course it is not degradable. Ours is degradable.

I was talking about real fur using chemicals for preservation and dyeing and refrigeration during summer months.

The dyeing process is very sophisticated.  There really is a very low level, probably better than leather and most textiles.

Is wearing fur more acceptable now than at the height of campaigns by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals 15 years ago? Peta appears to be taking a softer approach to its campaign.

“There was a time when bigger retail stores said that they didn’t want to touch fur anymore. That has changed now. The anti-fur movement is not about animal welfare, it’s about animal rights. It believes animals have the same rights as people.”

PETA’s website shows disturbing images.

“Some of them are staged, especially footage from China, and a lot of this footage is really old. It’s much more sophisticated nowadays. We have the ‘Origin Assured’ label, which says animals must come from the wild or farms where government regulations are in place.”

(PETA denied these allegations: “The footage of fur farms in our videos and those of our affiliates is about as current and relevant as possible, and it’s as real as can be…Our videos are completely authentic.”)

What do you say to consumers today who are thinking of wearing fur?

“I really do believe that people now are being sick being told by everybody what to do or not what to do. If you don’t want to eat meat or wear fur, fine, but don’t tell everyone else not to do it.”

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