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.

This story first appeared in the May 27, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“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.”

 

Haider Ackermann is one of them. “It’s always very difficult to work with fur, as it’s so rich by itself that it can very easily look like too much,” says the designer, who featured relatively simple layered ponchos in fox and mink this season.

Rick Owens, whose fur collection is called Palais Royale, echoes his sentiments, saying of the looks in his collection: “There has been such a tradition of overworking fur, I wanted to just let it be.” He says he intends his furs to be luxurious versions of his signature leathers, and one coat features loose mink panels and ultraskinny jersey sleeves, while a vest overflows with undulating waves of the fur.

Making the material current, other designers have concluded, means developing skins that work regardless of the weather. “Fur can be very thin, lightweight and breathable,” says Igor Chapurin, citing a sheared mink dress from his fall collection.

“Fur is a luxury garment, but it is also very practical, especially for travel,” echoes Dundas, who believes that fur can be an all-year-round, any-season material. “Making it lightweight is essential. Just like wool, today, fur is even more temperature-regulating. Part of making fur one of the modern luxuries lies in comfort.”

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