Traipsing down Queen Street for a little post-holiday bargain hunting, I peer into the storefront of one of this area's last furriers and think, "Ugh, how can such a barbaric relic survive in this bastion of urban youth culture?"
The stout, grey-haired man within seems to be the only one ever to crack open the shop door. He considers his carroty carcasses of fox fur as though pining for the era when a silky mink or short 'coon shag was at the top of every girl's wish list. I wonder how he can hold on. Over years of crusty eggshells and graffiti scrawls, Queen Street had spoken. Get the fur out of our 'hood.
Dropping the snarl from my lip, I skip into a young hipster shop to sift through the latest high-tech fashions for raver boys and girls. Here in this safe haven of wide pants and synthetic tops, I run my fingers across a hoodie made with all too real-looking bunny fur. I stare in disbelief at the tag that out-prices all else in the store: "Rabbit Fur Hoodie $199."
I summon the salesgirl to confirm it. As I stumble out of the shop slack-jawed and speechless, what do I see four doors down but a rabbit-fur vest hanging in the window of yet another young alternative designer? When did Queen Street give in?
Half a decade after supermodels like Naomi Campbell sashayed onto runways in their birthday suits to prove that they'd rather go naked than wear fur, the scruples of the fashion world collapsed under a tidal wave of native chic. The late 90s saw Inuit fashions pillaged, scraps of fur pasted on breasts and gamy pelts gracing crotches like loincloths.
Animal rights groups were outraged by the change, and the public was confused. Most fur-donning matrons had hidden their minks or traded them in for impressive imitations for fear of spray paint and snarls. Even as fashion spreads tried to peddle new versions of fur ("This darling pony attaché is only $299!"), the market seemed to keep one eye cocked, never sure whether a PETA ambush was around the corner.
A film of guilt and lack of practicality or affordability still dogs the fur industry, keeping sales from returning to anywhere near pre-90s levels -- though they are climbing. Animal rights politics remain squarely out of fashion, but most clothing stores have remained loyal to the ever more convincing replicas of every hide in vogue.
As hippie/eastern-European-peasant supermodels strut their stuff on the world's runways, the fashionistas are now trying to persuade us that if we mismatch and muddy our swaths of fur we, too, can make poverty cool and let go of that nagging shame that fur is too haughty. Only this can explain why these young alternative designers are taking it upon themselves to peddle patches of rabbit skins now, after all this resisting. At least our grandmothers used fur for warmth, and our mothers, less honourably, for status, but in mangy strips of bunny on rumpled shirts, why in hell are we bothering?
Looking around, it's clear the floodgates have opened. The shame is gone. The minks are out in droves, and I've just heard my first furrier ad, brazen enough to advertise on the radio. It's enough to make you want to start a mini fur-patrol -- gumming all the glossy pelts in town to put that little bit of fear back in fur-wearers' minds. But with the egg-throwers and spray painters still out of sight, I might just be the last girl standing who'd rather go buff than wear bunnies.