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For PETA’s Sake

PARIS — With designers making fur a major statement at the fall collections, the anti-fur agents from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have responded in a renewed wave of fashion sabotage, this time aimed at the Paris shows....

PARIS — With designers making fur a major statement at the fall collections, the anti-fur agents from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have responded in a renewed wave of fashion sabotage, this time aimed at the Paris shows.

Following a comparatively calm season of protests in New York and Milan, PETA members have stepped up their efforts here, circumventing tight entrance security with virulent banner waving antics at shows from Lagerfeld Gallery to Christian Dior.

They’ve been suffering the consequences, too. At the Celine show on Friday, a burly security guard tackled a protester roughly, slamming her into a gasping front row before carrying her off. The next day, at Jean Paul Gaultier, guards adopted a more humorous approach, drawing yelps of laughter by bundling the protesters in fur before spiriting them away.

“They may have something to say, but we have a statement to make, too,” explained Gaultier president Donald Potard, who came up with the idea to drape the protesters in fur. “I think there are more important causes to be protesting right now.”

Some in the audience felt that by draping fur protesters in the very object of their contempt, Gaultier had merely stooped to PETA’s confrontational tactics. But many editors and buyers were amused and found the response a fitting one. All, however, expressed repugnance over the tackling at Celine.

“There are all sorts of ways to deal with these protests, from humor to intelligence,” said Ingrid Sischy, the editor in chief of Interview. “But that guard at Celine was too violent. Protest is part of democracy. I’m not saying it’s a place to be pushing this cause; it’s an illegal action, but there’s no excuse for the guards to get so rough.”

“I don’t like seeing violence of any kind,” added Babeth Djian, editor in chief at Numero. “And it was too much at Celine.”

Celine president Jean-Marc Loubier underscored that the protesters always “run risks.” He said that there was no intention to rough up the protester.

In any case, the intended message may have been lost on its audience. Many editors and buyers concurred that anti-fur protests are starting to lose their edge, and some said spotting the PETA protester in the crowd has become something of a spectator sport.

This story first appeared in the March 10, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It’s become a non-issue, really,” commented Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue and a frequent target of PETA. “They’ve been disrupting the catwalks for years; no one pays attention to them now.”

“The PETA people are making the same statement they make every season,” added Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction for Bloomingdale’s. “It’s annoying to those of us who are here to follow fashion.”

“At this point, they’re just being disruptive and no one pays any attention to them,” agreed Elizabeth Saltzman Walker, fashion director at Vanity Fair, who suggested that PETA stick to more constructive efforts, such as the fashion shows it sponsors in New York to present alternatives to fur. “We didn’t jump up wearing fur coats at their show,” continued Saltzman Walker. “So maybe they should learn to respect other people.”

Andrew Butler, campaign coordinator for PETA, said the organization had particularly targeted the City of Light this season because “a lot of designers who predominantly use fur are in Paris.” After staging similar protests in New York in 2000, PETA tempered its activities in the U.S. in wake of the 9/11 attacks.

However, PETA tipped the Chambre Syndicale that protests in Paris would be strident this season, according to Didier Grumbach, president of Paris’s governing body of fashion.

“We were warned and we warned all of the houses that this type of incident could occur,” said Grumbach. “But they’re very crafty and difficult to stop.”

The protesters have managed to penetrate heavy security in Paris to create more disruption than they have in several seasons. How they’re getting through the security maze is still a question, but in the past, PETA has acknowledged that its activists are often smuggled tickets by sympathetic attendees, or simply request tickets for standing room from designers, who commonly grant hundreds of such passes to ensure they will show to a full house.

At some of the targeted shows this past week, the protesters have rushed down from standing room sections and leapt onto the runway to unfurl their banners.

Grumbach pointed out that no punishment is meted out to the protesters. But this season, he said, they have been detained by security guards until after the show so their names could be noted.

“Arresting them or throwing them in jail would be useless,” said Grumbach. “They want publicity and victimizing them would give them more publicity. They are a small group. If we can get their names and identities and pass them around to the houses I’m sure we can stop this type of thing in the future.”

In response to the incidents, other designers have stepped up their preparations for shows this week with intense security. Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, a frequent target of such protests who is expected to show today, characterizes the PETA activists as “a kind of urban terrorist.”

He suggested they would better invest their energies to find a way to make animals vegetarian “because nothing kills more animals than other animals.”

“Pushing political correctness makes people want the opposite,” he said. “I think it’s grotesque.”

A Chanel spokeswoman said the house has hired additional security and plans to be “very vigilant” at the entrance.

After a protest at Dior last week, John Galliano’s ode to the Forties at the show for his signature collection on Sunday night was also heavily covered with security, and this time was incident free.

But no one could mistake Galliano’s position on the issue: He took his bow with a silver fox pelt draped over his shoulders.