NEW YORK -- Some designers would prefer that the expression, "Keep your enemies close at hand," not be applied to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
While the organization is planning to present its softer side this season by financing a 7th on Sixth fashion show, rather than attacking one, some designers said on Tuesday that PETA's prior campaign tactics have been too aggressive or violent to accept the inclusion of a PETA-sponsored show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week SoHo this season.
As reported, PETA is financing designer Marc Bouwer's Valentine's Day presentation with the blessing of 7th on Sixth and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Dan Mathews, director of campaigns for PETA, said the organization would not attempt to disrupt other shows in New York as it did in February 2000, when protesters crashed three shows and threw paint and gunk at models.
Several designers called that a positive approach. Others aren't buying it.
"Talk about sleeping with the enemy to get ahead," scoffed fur designer Dennis Basso.
"I think it's wrong," added a spokesman for Halston, one of the shows that was protested two years ago, when a PETA rep meant to throw red paint at models, but splashed former CNN correspondent Elsa Klensch and several other editors instead.
"They have every right to have a show," he said. "But I remember going to the CFDA Awards two years ago, and what they did to Valentino was so wrong. They have done a lot of terrible things to fashion designers in the past and I think it shows a lack of respect that 7th on Sixth would want to have a PETA show."
When Valentino received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, a chorus of protesters drowned out the designer for several minutes before they could be removed by security. The next year, Calvin Klein and his entourage were splattered with pies as they entered the show.
Valentino, whose couture show last week in Paris was interrupted by a sign-toting man storming onto the runway, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but a spokesman for the designer was still willing to give the group some leeway."It's about time [PETA] changed their approach," he said. "They would do well to do something more productive. I think they're on the right track. We'll see in the future how they'll behave."
Karl Lagerfeld had guard dogs at the ready at his Chanel couture show last week to fend against protesters, having been the subject of several notorious protests. In 1997, a PETA protester drove a truckload of manure in front of a fashion show being held in New York for Lagerfeld's fur collection for Maximilian, then started shoveling it and accidentally hit a police lieutenant in the face.
"It's better than attacking people," said Lagerfeld of PETA's new approach. "I think it's a nicer way of going about it instead of making scandals, which works against them."
Lagerfeld said some of PETA's antics may have worked "a little" in the Nineties, when people were obsessed with being politically correct. Today, such appeals seem to drive people to do the opposite, he said.
"A lot of the top models who were doing anti-fur campaigns are now wearing it," Lagerfeld said. "I have nothing against fake fur, but I think sable is better. There's something sensual about it."
One of the common criticisms of PETA's campaigns is that the more sensational aspects of its attacks often overshadow the group's statement about animal cruelty. Media coverage of the incidents has led some designers to avoid instigating any further attacks from the group. Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors, who were also the subjects of PETA strikes during the 2000 collections, declined to comment on PETA's participation in the shows on Tuesday.
"When PETA has expressed themselves, it has always been in a hostile fashion, by disrupting shows and almost trying to cause physical harm to models and people in the audience," said Basso, whose annual fur shows at the Pierre Hotel have been targeted for many years.
"It's obvious that America is a free country," Basso said. "What's so great about this country is that different people are allowed to express themselves in different ways. Because of their track record, I think it is inappropriate that someone who has tried to hurt the 7th on Sixth shows in the past would now be allowed to participate."Regardless, the introduction of PETA's presence at the shows, even as a friendly gesture, has drawn more fire than was expected. Bouwer's camp, which advocates the use of fake fur and leather materials but does not endorse such aggressive campaign tactics, sees the show as an opportunity to present a more positive statement about cruelty-free fashion.
"We think this can be positive for everyone," said Paul Margolin, president of the company. "We want to make a peaceful presentation. What people perceive PETA as representing is something different than why we are aligning ourselves with them. We believe in the ethical treatment of animals."
Mathews added that PETA plans to invite other designers, including those who use fur, to the show.
"We'll even send a hand-delivered invitation to Anna Wintour," he said. "Isn't fashion supposed to be edgy?"
Alas, the favor may not be so easily returned. Douglas Hannant, an eveningwear designer who launched a licensed fur collection last year, also called PETA's new modus operandi a "positive approach." But he had a caveat.
"Just keep them out of my show," he said. "They're not invited."
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