PETA's peaceful protest at London Fashion Week

what radical anti-fur protesters get wrong about fashion

Catwalk invasions and aggressive protests outside shows by designers using faux fur have bemused editors in London and New York. When so many fashion people are also anti-fur, are the activists really protesting fur, or just fashion?

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Feb 19 2018, 5:24pm

PETA's peaceful protest at London Fashion Week

I was there when an army of anti-fur protesters blocked the entrance to Gareth Pugh’s spring/summer 18 show at London’s IMAX cinema last season. I didn’t try to battle my way through the middle of the crowd to the entrance because I didn’t actually see a pathway, so I mostly avoided the verbal abuse being flung at editors who did run that gauntlet. It was an electric atmosphere, and a frightening one if you were obviously part of the fashion pack -- even if you weren’t wearing fur. It was intimidating, and some activists were aggressive. I walked around the side of the crowd to get to the door. The protesters I asked to let me through did so politely, but many others were shouting ‘Shame on you’ as I walked into the venue.

Shame on who, exactly? On Gareth Pugh, who has been using fake fur in his collections for some time? Shame on me? I’ve always been anti-fur. I would never wear it and never promote it. I often write about PETA’s activities, commissioned an interview with their inspirational founder Ingrid Newkirk, and have reported on the international decline of this murderous industry. I always turn down invitations to events hosted or sponsored by fur companies and lobbyists, and tell the organisers directly why I wouldn’t attend, rather than ‘politely’ declining, so that it is noted as a protest, not simply a no-show. I’m telling you this not to get a pat on the back, but to demonstrate something that I believe escapes many outside of the fashion industry: a huge number of fashion people are also anti-fur. This really cannot be emphasised enough.

"The abuse (which included some being spat at outside the Burberry show last season) serves only to make them think badly of anti-fur activists who have lazily assumed every person at fashion week is a devotee of Cruella De Vil."

i-D Fashion Features Editor (and fellow anti-fur supporter) Steve Salter has been at all the shows in London this past week, and witnessed the catwalk invasion by a SURGE protester at the Mary Katrantzou show -- another designer targeted despite using fake fur in her collection. I caught up with him about the protests this morning. “Like the vast majority of the industry, I stand with the protestors and agree that fur has no place on the catwalks of LFW and beyond -- but the fight has to be fought in the right places,” he says. “The strength of the argument is diluted when it’s directed against designers who have either stopped using fur or have never used fur. It’s diluted further when the protest evolves into wider attacks on the industry, and they lose fashion allies when they scream ‘plastic people in a plastic industry, shame on you’, or physically abuse show-goers. I just hope more voices join the good fight.”

i-D is the only established fashion magazine to have banned fur from the get go, since Issue 1 was photocopied and stapled together by hand in 1980. But that doesn’t mean that the editors and stylists at other fashion magazines are pro-fur. Some are, there’s no denying that. But the majority, especially in London, are anti-fur. They don’t wear it, they try not to promote it, and when they have to cover a collection that used it, they attempt not to glorify it in any way. I know this because we talk about it, and we write about it. So when these same editors and stylists are shouted at outside fashion shows, or frightened by protesters who have invaded shows, it doesn’t nothing to make them anti-fur – they already are. The abuse (which included some being spat at outside the Burberry show last season) serves only to make them think badly of anti-fur activists who have lazily assumed every person at fashion week is a devotee of Cruella De Vil.

Ahead of each edition of London Fashion Week, PETA surveys all the designers to ask if they will be using fur. As the autumn/winter 18 season got underway last Thursday, I got an email from PETA to tell me that 94% of designers had not used fur in their collections. "This research proves that compassion is in fashion -- and it's a value that's here to stay," PETA Director Elisa Allen wrote then. "The fur industry is headed for the history books, as modern designers are saying no to pelts and yes to beautiful and innovative vegan fabrics." Seeing as this data is collected, can it not be used to ensure that fur-free designers are not attacked at such a crucial time for their business? In fact, it is. PETA activists made a peaceful, topless protest on Friday outside the show space, bringing attention to the issue of fur at fashion week without attacking any single designer.

The protester who invaded the catwalk at Mary Katrantzou was not affiliated with PETA, but with SURGE, an animal rights charity founded in 2016. SURGE did not immediately respond to our request to discuss the protest, but PETA’s Elisa Allen provided a statement about non-PETA protests at LFW, saying that they “weren't all PETA's style,” but that considering the brutal treatment of animals in the fashion industry, “who can blame anyone who peacefully (if enthusiastically) urges others to consider how cruel this is”. Which seems completely reasonable, but misses the point that they are attacking their own supporters. It’s not an either/or situation: we can protest fur and not attack designers at random. Elisa continues by saying, “Some people will change their behaviour when they're made to think about the issue. Shaking things up is how change comes about.” But the industry has thought about it, every one of us has, and most people agree: fur is wrong and we want it out of our industry. We don’t need ‘shaking up’ during the course of attending the busiest and most stressful trade shows of the year.

"It’s not pleasant, but it is understandable when protesters target designers who use fur, and the editors who attend their shows. But it doesn’t make sense to attack people who aren’t wearing fur, attending a show that includes no fur."

It’s not pleasant, but it is understandable when protesters target designers who use fur, and the editors who attend their shows. But it doesn’t make sense to attack people who aren’t wearing fur, attending a show that includes no fur. At this point, SURGE are a relatively unknown quantity, but it was PETA protesting outside the Marc Jacobs show (which -- you guessed it! -- used fake fur) in New York, and it was PETA US Executive VP Tracy Reiman who called him a “dirty designer” in a press statement about the protest. Marc responded on his Instagram account, posting a catwalk image of model Jackie Summers, captioning it, “This and all the other looks in the show used FAKE fur. There was NO real fur at all in this collection or show. That said, protesting is one thing but being abusive and aggressive to people while protesting about cruelty to animals is just plain hypocritical. #shameonme? Shameonyou!” We’ve reached out to PETA to ask if Tracy will amend her statement now that it is clear Marc did not use fur.

It may seem to protesters that attacking any fashion show is fair game as part of an industry with a fur problem. 234,000 people have signed a petition asking the British Fashion Council to ban fur completely from London Fashion Week, which they have so far declined to do. Many in the industry would be glad to see the BFC ban fur, and have likely signed the petition themselves. By attacking designers and editors indiscriminately, anti-fur activists are creating a conflict where there isn’t one, and are potentially dampening the resolve of the anti-fur fashion people who are the ones putting effective pressure on our institutions. We all want the same thing. Work with us, not against us. Do your research, be respectful, and put pressure on your real enemies, not our friends.