Designers give in to animal instincts

Ny fashion week For the buyers, editors and stylists on fashion duty today, the climate became an opportunity to up the style ante with furs.

A model is made up backstage before the showing of the fall 2009 collection of Georges Chakra during Fashion Week in Bryant Park, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009, in New York. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano) *** Local Caption ***  NYLL119_FASHION_GEORGES_CHAKRA.jpg *** Local Caption ***  NYLL119_FASHION_GEORGES_CHAKRA.jpg
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Any sensible New Yorker would respond to the recent extremities of day-to-night weather with the largest, thickest and most shapeless coat they could find. But for the buyers, editors and stylists on fashion duty today, the climate became an opportunity to up the style ante with furs - a look that also showed up in various collections. Widely considered to be a moral and fashion no-no just a few years ago, the controversial material has recently re-emerged on the runways. So far, there has been no paint thrown onto the catwalks, and fur-wearers are walking the streets unbothered by protesters.

Naturally, the event at which taste was left at the door, whether in furs or tulle or sequins, was the Barbie show. At the tents in Bryant Park, hordes of Barbie fans wrapped around a huge installation of the plastic fashion icon, waiting for a fashion show to celebrate her 50th birthday. Inside, luminaries such as Rachel Roy, Heidi Klum, Djimon Hounsou and Kimora Lee Simmons watched Barbie come to life in girlie and flirty garbs, including a beige bolero, a furry white cropped jacket and full pink scarves made with fur and feathers, the most glamorous of which was an off-white marabou over a sequinned gown fit for a Las Vegas showgirl. Outside the tents, we spotted chic young things donning plaid jackets accented with mink collars as they chased a cab in stiletto pumps.

In the same venue, Georges Chakra's first ready-to-wear line received strong support from his family and friends, but also drew a slew of photo-happy ladies wearing animal-skin coats, though his own aesthetic was rather more graphic, with a hi-tech, space-age look that gave a little optimism to today's gloomy mood. Hinting at many of the trends that are already emerging in New York, the couturier's ready-to-wear debut at Fashion Week - a parade of shiny fabrics, panels, futuristic shapes and 1980s-style neon colours - was the hit of the day, ensuring that his will be among the dresses appearing on future red carpets.

Meanwhile, the downtown shows continued the fuzzy inclination. Alexander Wang's predominantly black collection was offset by a dramatic blouse and coat, both of which featured fur, while Vena Cava's grey, short-haired jacket that came with an all-black outfit chimed perfectly with the 1980s mood. Meanwhile, a crowd of style mavens and fashion heavy-hitters, such as Visionaire's Cecilia Dean, Julie Gilhart of Barneys and Vogue's Meredith Melling Burke, were treated to Ohne Titel's streamlined silhouettes as well as the use of brown ombre mink for panels in a tough-looking jacket and coat.

Though fur is known more for its over-the-top statement style, it is these unconventional, hip iterations that have returned it to the fashion fold. At Patrik Ervell's menswear show at Chelsea Piers - attended by a scruffy-looking Michael Stipe and art star of the moment Terence Koh - the crowd's furs included fox coats, stoles, and neck wraps worn by women with just-got-out-of-bed hairstyles and doe eyes. The most striking rendition was a voluminous grey mink coat worn over a dishevelled plaid button-down shirt and tight electric blue jeans.

Men, too, got in on the skins. On the way to Ervell we spotted a European man wearing an all-fur parka nipped at the waist with a drawstring that exhibited a kind of Belgian flair. At the show, several strapping men wore Astrakhan coats, one of which was nicely contrasted with a scruffy beard, sweatshirt and ripped jeans. The past couple of days have also seen a sea of Canada Goose coats with coyote ruff hoods, a utilitarian vibe that inspired Richard Chai's slick black-and-grey plaid coat with a brown fur collar at his first menswear show.

The fashion world never usually shies away from controversy and its moral compass is not always accurate. However, there's no doubt that this is a trend that, in defiance of Peta's continuing efforts to see fur eradicated from the catwalks, we can expect to continue for the winter ahead. And after all, fur does have the unique quality of being simultaneously primitive, rich and, these days, rebellious - an interesting set of juxtapositions for the coming season.