Last Christmas, Kathleen Kelly, a stylish blond Washington financial analyst, finally treated herself to a longed-for luxury: a floor-length mink coat with fox trim.
“I wanted a fur for a long time,” she says. “I’m 32. I bought it as a present to myself and I love it. I wear it with jeans. It’s fun.”
Miss Kelly says she adores the mink and wears it with pride. She has not been the target of anti-fur activists, who have been known to verbally abuse fur wearers and even toss red paint on high-priced pelts.
“It’s nobody’s business,” Miss Kelly says. What would she say to a protester? “I’d say it’s my choice. We live in America.”
People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has mounted a long public campaign against fur wearers. Some women have been cowed by their tactics — but not Miss Kelly.
“The minks are raised on a farm. That’s what they’re for.”
Fur industry officials say Miss Kelly is not alone. Younger women now account for more than half of the industry’s U.S. sales.
Last week, at the urging of PETA and Heather Mills McCartney, wife of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, the retailer J. Crew agreed to stop selling fur. Not that J.Crew has ever sold many of the coats or fur-trimmed sweaters PETA objected to.
“That’s not the business J.Crew is in,” Owen Blicksilver, a spokesman for the retailer says. “It’s less than 1 percent of the product line. The decision was made a month ago.”
Members of PETA staged protests in front of J.Crew’s Madison Avenue store in New York, urging shoppers to boycott the chain. The 11-week campaign included naked protesters in Grand Rapids, Mich., during a snowstorm. But Mr. Blicksilver says many women ignored the boycott.
“They were not deterred by PETA. If women want fur, they buy it.”
Keith Kaplan, executive director of the Fur Information Council of America agrees. “J. Crew didn’t want the headache,” he says. “But it wasn’t the customers telling J. Crew they didn’t want it.” PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk says “by deciding to stop selling fur, J.Crew has shed its image as an uncaring company.”
The PETA campaign has struck other fashion figures. Supermodel Elle Macpherson recently signed a $2.3 million contract with Blackglama, then tried to back out, saying she feared her family would be targeted by anti-fur activists. Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour was recently pelted with a tofu pie for her pro-fur stance.
In cold-weather cities such as Chicago and Boston, fur coats are a staple in winter. In Washington, where freezing weather is less common, fur is more a fashion statement than necessity.
Still, PETA’s tactics have inspired an aversion to press scrutiny on the part of some established local furriers such as Gartenhaus in Bethesda. The manager of the store declined to be interviewed, and would not allow photographs to be taken inside the store.
At Miller Furs in Tysons Corner Galleria, owner Mark Miller politely asked a reporter to leave the store. The manager of the store agreed to be quoted, but not by name. “Business has been great,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot more younger women and girls coming in. It’s a special purchase.”
And no fur protests. “We haven’t had any problems at all. It’s no longer an issue with young women. It’s a personal decision.”
Outside in the mall walkway, Mary Louise Gill, 31, was strolling with her boyfriend in a fur jacket with a fluffy black fur collar.
“I’m definitely for wearing fur,” she says. “My mom wears fur. All my friends wear fur.”
At Saks Fifth Avenue, the manager of the store’s elegant Fur Salon, Antonis Papadopoulos, showed off various designer furs. “The younger women are going more for fur pieces,” he says.
So where does this leave young women who are worried about appearing insensitive to concerns of animal rights activists?
“They’ve sorted through the issues,” says Mr. Kaplan. “They know we don’t use endangered species. Dog and cat fur is not an issue. We don’t use Chinese-raised fur. I think PETA’s impact has always been overstated. We did research which shows that 88 percent of people disagreed with their tactics.”
Fur sales topped $1 billion in the United States last year, Mr. Kaplan says, with the average age of the buyer getting younger — 52 percent of fur buyers now are under age 45. What used to be a luxury item, he says, “has become a fashion staple.” Whether it’s mink, chinchilla, silver fox or sable, nothing is stopping women from indulging their desire for fur.
“It’s an absolute love affair.”