When Tia Carrere walked the red carpet at the Grammy Awards last month, bargain hunters everywhere cheered. Celebrities regularly receive thousands of dollars’ worth of free clothes from designers, but Tia took a different route. Her entire outfit—including her stunning black dress, baubles and bag—cost less than $100. She told a reporter, “I just wanted to make a statement that you can look great for not much money.”
Can we expect to see stars wearing frocks from Target at future awards shows and film premieres? Probably not. But there is one thing that celebrities can do to show that they feel their fans’ economic pain: Leave the fur at home. Nothing says ostentatious consumption like a coat made by ripping the skin off dozens of animals’ backs.
At a time when most of us are cutting costs—taking cues from first lady Michelle Obama, who wears J.Crew and affordable designers to official events, scouring consignment shops and discount stores for bargains—some celebrities and the designers who dress them seem woefully out of touch. Yes, I’m talking to you, Ashley Olsen. Designer Giorgio Armani, who told Time magazine that he had decided to stop using fur, yet still sells rabbit-fur garments—rabbits don’t count?—included floral-print fur coats and fur-hemmed skirts in recent collections. More ridiculously, he also featured fur-trimmed snowsuits. For babies. While many Americans are worrying about losing their jobs or keeping up with their monthly mortgage payments, flaunting fur is a bit gauche, to say the least. It also sends the message that the wearer doesn’t care about anyone but him or herself.
On fur farms around the world, animals spend their entire lives in small, filth-encrusted cages, often with no protection from the driving rain or the scorching sun. Rabbits’ tender feet become raw and ulcerated from rubbing against the wire mesh of the cage bottoms, and the stench of ammonia from urine-soaked floors burns their eyes and lungs. Video footage taken during undercover investigations of fur farms in China and France shows rabbits twitching and shaking after their throats are cut.
Some animals are still alive, breathing in ragged gasps, as the fur is ripped off their bodies. An investigator working undercover on a Chinese fur farm filmed a skinned raccoon dog, tossed onto a heap of carcasses like trash, who had just enough strength left to lift her bloodied head and stare into the camera. Even in countries with animal welfare laws—and China has none—animals are poisoned, gassed and electrocuted for their fur, all legally. Animals who are electrocuted convulse, shake and cry out in excruciating pain as they die of heart attacks.
Cruelty is never in style. But now more than ever, as more and more fashionistas are becoming “recessionistas,” fur is as conspicuously out of place as a bailed-out banker’s private jet.
Michael McGraw is the director of media relations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.