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Out of style

Jo-Anne McArthur / SPCA

She was reaching for the monkey fur coat when it happened. As New York City fashion designer Kym Canter went into her closet to grab the vintage black fur that had once drawn admiring looks and made her feel chic and sexy, she felt something else entirely: She knew people at the party she was headed to would be looking at her, yes, but for the wrong reason—they’d be outraged by the suffering behind the fur. And she realized that as much as she loved the coat’s design and look, she could no longer ignore its origins.

For much of her career as a stylist, fashion editor and creative director, Canter had worked with fur. During eight years at luxury retailer J. Mendel, Canter had collected a kind of archive of dozens of furs—the kind that cost $45,000 and up. Some were her creations. Others, like the monkey fur coat, were her inspiration. But now she was starting to feel bad about wearing the skins of dead animals. A thought entered her head: “I don’t want to be this person—I don’t think I am this person.” She left the coat where it hung.

It was winter 2016. Canter began seeking out high-end faux fur and designing coats for herself, then her friends. In November 2017, with money from the sale of 26 of her animal furs, she launched a new label, a faux fur line called House of Fluff. Canter is CEO and creative director. Alex Dymek, formerly director of fur development at J. Mendel, joined her as design director.

Far from the fur district in midtown Manhattan, farther still from the glamorous stores of Madison Avenue, where J. Mendel still sells animal fur, House of Fluff inhabits a small, fifth-floor studio in a trendy block of the Bowery, above an experimental theater club. Canter, Dymek and other staff members work in a long, narrow room with a wood floor, large windows, big tables and a couple of sewing machines. From this modest space has emerged a faux line, including a “yeti” coat—inspired by the monkey fur—that has appeared in Vogue and on the cover of O magazine.

Priced from $125 to $1,500—less than many animal furs—the accessories, bombers, capes and coats are sophisticated and glamorous. And humane.

“I don’t think the status comes from the animal, the status comes from, ‘Oh, what a chic thing!’ ” says Canter. “Every time I get on an airplane, I wear the bomber jacket and everyone asks me about it. They want it. It’s cool-looking. You feel special in it.”

Faux chic: House of Fluff bomber jacket made of faux fur
Faux chic: House of Fluff’s Teddy Bomber Jacket

 Courtesy of House of Fluff

Not so long ago, animal fur symbolized luxury for a lot of people. Fake furs were dismissed as cheap mass-market imitations. Today, new faux textiles offer the same or better quality, feel and warmth as animal fur. And they’re cruelty-free, easy to clean and don’t require special summer storage. House of Fluff and other new labels like Maison Atia and Pelush are producing high-end, modern, increasingly sustainable faux fur—alternatives reaching the fashion world as more and more designers and brands shun animal fur for good. After four decades of activist protests and exposés by the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare groups, celebrities and stylists no longer want it: When producers needed to depict Elton John in his ’70s-era furs while filming Rocketman, they turned to Canter to supply faux. Primed by years of advice and encouragement from P.J. Smith, HSUS director of fashion policy, a growing number of big-name designers and retailers have pledged to go fur-free: Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Prada; Burlington Coat Factory and T.J. Maxx. Faux fur has increasingly become the norm on runways around the globe, including New York Fashion Week.

“Fur? I’m out of that,” Donatella Versace told the Economist in 2018. “I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion.”

Chloe Mendel, whose grandfather founded J. Mendel, switched from animal fur to faux in 2017 when she founded Maison Atia in New York, which uses the same craftsmanship, even the same sewing machines. “[Faux fur] was an unexplored material that I knew had a lot of potential,” she says. “It has [the] ability to be worked similarly to the way fur is but so much more. You can manipulate the weaving of the fabric, or the actual material. Factories are pushing the boundaries of what this material can look and feel like.”

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