By  on May 27, 2008

Fur, which once was a symbol of conservative chic, has become a favorite new material for European independent designers, who are using it for everything from featherlight swing jackets to carapacelike cocoon capes. Martin Margiela even crafted a vest from glossy black raccoon tails woven onto suede strips. Distinctive pieces such as tunics and shawls, along with cutting-edge weaving and knitting techniques, have a particular appeal for this group.

"My aim is to make fur younger, easier and cooler, to rejuvenate its techniques and perceptions, since it still carries ladylike connotations," says Peter Dundas, the new creative director of Revillon. Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg and Kate Moss inspired his flamboyant first collection, which featured dramatic fur mixes, such as Kidassia goat with astrakhan lamb or black cross mink with fawn light fox. Embellishments included raw-cut, embroidered ribbon appliqués, inspired by decorative Lapp costumes; hand-shaved motifs suggested by traditional Eskimo designs, and feathery fur fringes, made from a badger-and-raccoon mix, applied to printed chiffon.

"There are no rules for fur anymore," says Sarah Lerfel, buyer for Colette, which will host a party for Revillon and feature some of the house's more avant-garde designs, including those with ribbon trim, in its windows during the fall couture season in July.

Giambattista Valli, whose new fur line, produced and distributed by Ciwifurs, was unveiled as part of his runway show in March, says, "I see my fur designs as fashion garments." He worked brocade, wool bouclé and feathers into the mix, dyeing zibeline raspberry and teal. The looks range from a sporty high-collared black goatskin trench, lined with gray jersey cashmere, to a raspberry mink and Persian lamb coat with sleeves that bell dramatically, which, Valli says, "was inspired by Ingmar Bergman's 'Cries and Whispers.'"

"It's exciting for us to work with a designer who has an obvious love for the material," says John Weiler, fashion director of The Fur Salon at Saks Fifth Avenue.

For some, however, going back to basics is another way to shake off fur's bourgeois associations. "There was a moment in the Eighties when fur wasn't allowed to look like fur and was sheared and dyed," says Jan Erik Carlson, chief executive officer of Saga Furs. "Today there's a big trend for quite rough coats. There are many young designers playing with the origins of fur, the fact that it goes back to the origins of man."


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