By  on April 19, 1994

NEW YORK -- Is fur chic again?

From ersatz monkey to phony Mongolian lamb, a veritable zoo of fake fur made its way across the fall runways of Europe and New York.

Some were overtly faux -- sent out by the industry's most politically correct designers -- but others could easily be mistaken for the real thing. So much so, in fact, that some in the industry say all this runway action could make the streets safe again for any fur -- even the real thing.

Observers see irony at work: In the attempt to satisfy anti-fur activists with fakes, designers may end up giving the real thing a big boost and lifting a stigma that's plagued the fur industry since the Eighties.

The question boils down to whether fake fur is, ultimately, pro-fur or anti-fur and the industry is predictably divided.

"We've always sold fake furs," said Ralph Romberg, divisional vice president of outerwear at Neiman Marcus. "Every three to four years it becomes very hot and oddly enough, in the years that fakes take off, so does the real thing."

"You can never know the psychology of the consumer," Romberg said. "When you see something in a fashion show in couture it does filter down, depending on what's available. In many cases the consumer is buying a look and a feel."

Romberg said that this past winter, Neiman's sold out of its fake fur inventory and also did well with real fur sales. Romberg said he anticipates much of the same for 1994.

"The abundance of fake fur bodes well for real fur," said Karen Handel, director of media relations and governmental affairs for the Fur Information Council of America.

Fur sales rose 9 percent, to $1.2 billion in 1993, according to a report conducted by FICA, the second consecutive yearly gain following a 10 percent hike in 1992 -- and the upward trend is expected to continue this year.

Handel said that when fake furs are hot, an upturn in real fur business often follows.

"Fake fur is an imitation and everyone knows imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," she said.

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