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Fur Coat Going From Status Symbol To Stigma

March 17, 1990 GMT

ROME (AP) _ The fur coat is quickly going from status symbol to stigma as conservation groups and anti-fur activists step up the campaign to help animals save their skins.

″It takes 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat, but only one to wear it,″ says the slogan emblazoned across T-shirts by the British animal rights group Lynx.

The use of endangered species, such as leopard and tiger, for fur coats has been illegal more than a decade. But it was not until recent years that activists declared war on the use of any pelt, from the ranch mink to the wild sable.

The campaign started in the United States and gathered such momentum that citizens of Aspen, Colo., recently tried to pass a law to ban the sale of fur. The attempt failed, but the point was made.

In Europe, where women don their furs from October through March regardless of the weather, the movement started more slowly. But taking the cue from England, anti-fur branches of animal rights groups have cropped up across the continent.

The European fur industry’s most visible setback was the closing in February of the fur salon at Harrods department store in London. It had clad the rich and famous nearly a century.

The store said sales had dropped more than 40 percent in the past four years.

Celebrities such as Paul and Linda McCartney and the former model Twiggy support animal rights groups in England. Actress Kate O’Mara now writes her refusal to wear fur coats into her contracts, after she was forced to wear one in episodes of ″Dynasty.″

Across the Channel, French furriers have also suffered losses - a drop in sales of 27 percent to 30 percent over the past three years - according to Georges Constant president of the French furriers’ guild.

Constant blames mild winters and rising prices as much as the ecologists for fur’s waning popularity.

Moreover, French furriers, far from being on the run, are fighting back against activists they consider out of line.

According to Constant, the guild recently won a lawsuit against a film that showed animals being killed and was described by its maker as a documentary. The guild insisted the film was an advertisement.

The fur coat is still popular among Germans, and the annual fur fair in Frankfurt continues to be Europe’s major fur event.

However, animal rights groups connected with the powerful environmentalist Greens party stage periodic protests, including demonstrations at Christmas in front of major department stores with fur salons.

In recent years, anti-fur activists also have released a number of minks from mink ranches near the city of Mainz.

Surprisingly, sunny Italy is one of Europe’s largest fur consumers. According to a recent survey, 5.9 million women, nearly one out of four in Italy, own at least one fur coat.

The Anti-Vivisection League, linked to the local Greens party, is trying to turn the trend around with demonstrations, fur-coat bonfires, and the freeing of animals from fur farms.

On March 10, the activists demonstrated on the streets of Pavia, where Italy’s largest fur manufacturer, Annabella, has its headquarters. They carried a small coffin and shouted slogans such as, ″A fur on your shoulders, means blood on your hands 3/8″

The Italian Greens have proposed a law that would ban animal fur production, sales and imports by January 1994. To help furriers convert their businesses, a tax of 50 percent would be levied on furs bought before 1994.

Italian furriers have accused animal rights groups of ″boycotting″ commerce, a crime in Italy, with their anti-fur campaigns.

During March shows in Milan for ready-to-wear collections for fall and winter, Fendi, Italy’s most prestigious fur label, showed coats and jackets with fur on the inside.

Paola Fendi, head of the company, said the intention was not to hide the fur from conservationists, but simply to show one side of a reversible coat.

″We are furriers and proud of it,″ said Fendi. ″We introduced the reversible fur because it is a fashionable and practical solution for the traveling career woman.″

Many of France’s and Italy’s top designers such as Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Armani, and Ferre have created chic fake furs.

But these copies are not cheap - they go for an average $3,000.