In a surprise reversal of strategy, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is financing designer Marc Bouwer’s fall fashion show, which will be part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week SoHo, with the official blessing of 7th on Sixth and the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
PETA has had an increasingly antagonistic relationship with designers in recent years after a string of sensational protests that have included throwing a tofu-cream pie at Oscar de la Renta in Oregon in 1998, infiltration of the New York runway shows two years ago, when activists splattered models with red paint, and that infamous dead raccoon act with Anna Wintour’s lunch. But the organization has had a change of heart, according to Dan Mathews, director of campaigns, at least for this season in New York.
“There’s a new civic-mindedness since September, especially in New York,” said Mathews, who this week is sending hundreds of used fur coats to Afghan refugees. “We thought it might be a good time to try to get people to reflect on why we do these things, so instead of disrupting other shows, we’re encouraging other designers to come to Marc’s show to learn by his example.”
Bouwer, who has been designing since 1990 and started his ready-to-wear collection in 1996 with a specialty in eveningwear, dressing celebrities like Toni Braxton and Shania Twain, has been a vocal proponent of using fake fur and imitation leather in his designs. He said he is not siding with PETA’s recent actions by accepting their sponsorship, but using the opportunity to make his point about animal rights and more humane fashion alternatives.
“I’m not telling people not to wear fur,” said Bouwer, who will show at the Puck Building on Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. “I’m telling them how fashion has evolved today. Fashion should be fun and painless. There are amazing new fabrics and technology to create imitation fur and leather that a lot of people don’t know about.”
Still, some will question the participation of PETA as a sponsor at the shows, considering the security risks its protesters exposed by sneaking into fashion shows without invitations and then boasting of how they did so two years ago. Fern Mallis, executive director of 7th on Sixth, and Peter Arnold, executive director of the CFDA, both said they are taking Mathews on his word that there would not be any further protests at the shows. Two protesters from PETA most recently crashed the Versace couture show in Paris this month.
“This is totally the way to get their message across,” Mallis said. “I hope this is the beginning of a new and healthy relationship.”