Life&Style writer Serena Murphy discusses the ethics and problems of animal cruelty that surround Paris Fashion Week,
Content warning: this article discusses animal cruelty, which some readers may find disturbing.
‘Nothing is as it appears to be in Schiaparelli’s Inferno Couture…’ promised the fashion house in the caption of a recent Instagram video featuring Kylie Jenner sporting their garment. This statement turned out to be true, but not for its intended reasons.
Kylie’s outfit, a fitted black dress with what appeared to be a lion’s decapitated head perched on one shoulder, worn to the Schiaparelli Haute Couture runway on 23rd January, sparked waves of confusion and criticism, with many being initially appalled at what appeared to be a proud display of blatant animal cruelty. Designed by Schiaparelli’s creative director Daniel Rosebury, Kylie’s dress was the teaser for a collection featuring fake snow leopard and wolf heads. Amid the media frenzy, a video compilation of Kylie’s look emerged on Schiaparelli’s Instagram, the caption stating in block capitals that ‘NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN MAKING THIS LOOK’. These claims failed to quell critics, with one user commenting that ‘Faux or not…You have an incredible platform to make a change… instead you used it to glorify trophy hunting… How is THIS fashion?’.
Criticism was quickly intercepted by none other than Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She argued that ‘Kylie’s look celebrates lions’ beauty and may be a statement against trophy hunting, in which lion families are torn apart to satisfy human egotism.’
However, while I believe it is commendable to critique the collection for promotion of trophy hunting, both sides to this argument fail to see the disturbing reality that, in fact, Schiaparelli’s garments were not cruelty-free, and the lives of actual animals were taken in the production process. Despite their bold claim that no animals were harmed, Schiaparelli also noted that wool and silk were used to create the faux heads, both of which claim the lives of animals daily. Schiaparelli really did live up to their promise that ‘Nothing is as it appears…’.
So why did Schiaparelli claim their clothes to be cruelty free when they are not? And why aren’t more people talking about it? While many argue that sheep are not actually killed for their wool, in most cases, this is far from true. The wool industry is ultimately a consumer industry like any other, driven by demand and profit. In the process of wool extraction, it is common for sheep to be castrated with no pain relief, beaten, and have their tails docked. They either die on the shearing floor from stress, exhaustion, or neglect, or are slaughtered when their wool is no longer profitable. Even if Schiaparelli were able to source wool from small farms and could ensure that these sheep had not been subject to such cruel practises, I believe that the use of human-made alternatives sends a more powerful message that realistic depictions of animals can be created without the need for any animal to be harmed.
Reality isn’t any brighter for silkworms. PETA, despite Newkirk’s support for Schiaparelli’s collection, has previously condemned silk production. To produce silk, the fibre that silkworms weave to make cocoons is extracted from them through a process of boiling the worms inside their cocoons, preventing their transformation into moths and killing them. Around 3,000 silkworms die in the process of making one pound of silk, making the silk industry accountable for the killing of billions, if not trillions, per year. In the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report 2017, silk was found to have the greatest cradle to gate impact on global warming, followed by wool, then leather. Indeed, it is easy to remove ourselves from the suffering of silkworms given that they cannot express pain in the same ways humans can. However, they are sentient beings capable of experiencing pain and fear.
Schiaparelli’s hypocrisy and misinformation regarding the ‘cruelty-free’ nature of their collection is not an isolated incident. I argue that it speaks of a systemic problem, both in the fashion industry and society. The reaction to the collection has demonstrated that, while it is socially inacceptable to showcase a real lion’s head on the runway, critics largely turn a blind eye to the use of materials such as wool and silk. When each is a sentient life, surely it is completely arbitrary to value a lion’s life over a silkworm’s.
There is hope that society is beginning to acknowledge the cruelty of using animals for clothing. At New York Fashion week in September 2022, celebrities Ricky Gervais and Pink protested against the skinning of animals for fashion through a powerful video titled ‘Stolen For Fashion’, ironically organised by PETA, in which the actors played an alligator and rabbit with missing chunks of skin who confront people wearing alligator skin bags and rabbit fur coats. However, clearly, the fashion industry’s arbitrary justification for the use of wool and silk continues largely unchallenged.
I believe that the only way that Schiaparelli’s garments could be interpreted as a display of artistic licence is if they contained no animal derived materials or processes and lived up to their promise of being cruelty-free. While the skill and talent in creating such realistic faux taxidermy is commendable, any deeper meaning to the collection was overshadowed by its hypocrisy. I believe it is essential that we keep campaigning to prevent the use of animal products in the fashion industry, especially given the existence of human-made alternatives which have the power to save lives each day.
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