Something was clearly missing from Stockholm Fashion Week's virtual catwalk Aug. 25, and it wasn't just a physical audience.
Five days before, the show's organizers said that fur and exotic skins had been banned from the lineup. Fur wasn't surprising. Among younger Western consumers, at least, fur has been steadily slipping down the rungs of popularity, prompting even luxury stalwarts such as Burberry, Gucci and Prada to jettison the material in order to secure their holds on hearts and wallets alike.
Exotic skins, on the other hand, were new ... ish. While London Fashion Week, one of the four major fashion weeks, banned fur in 2018, the only other runway events to outlaw exotic skins -- the stuff of alligator handbags, python coats, galuchat wallets and stingray stilettos -- were the minor Melbourne and Helsinki fashion weeks, also in 2018.
Signs abound, however, that a furlike reckoning is coming for exotic skins, partly buoyed by the pandemic, which could be linked to illegal wildlife trafficking.
Before the coronavirus spread, brands including Chanel, Diane von Furstenberg and Mulberry were already dropping exotic hides, once inextricable from high fashion, because of animal-welfare concerns and other supply-chain concerns. Amid the pandemic, the momentum has only grown.
Mulberry nixed crocodiles, ostriches and lizards in May. When PVH Corp., which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, updates its animal-welfare policy later this year, exotic skins will join angora and fur on its list of verboten materials, according to a representative.
PVH declined to comment on the decision, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been doing its best to link exotic skins, one of the final frontiers in the animal-welfare battle, to wet markets in Wuhan, China -- and was heavily lobbying the fashion group.
It is in these markets, where "blood and fluids from dead animals wash into the street," said Dan Mathews, senior vice president of PETA, that the coronavirus could have originated. The confinement and slaughtering of wild animals for bags and coats, PETA says, create conditions where pathogens similar to covid-19 can spill over to infect humans.
Not everyone is buying it, however. At the June annual meeting for LVMH, the world's largest luxury goods conglomerate, the company told PETA representatives (as part of its strategy, PETA had bought stock in LVMH in 2017) that animals like crocodiles and alligators remain a "precious commodity."
As with fellow exotic-skins holdout Kering, which operates Balenciaga, Gucci and Saint Laurent, LVMH established its own reptile farms to ensure the integrity of its stock. But animal activists like PETA argue that such controls are not enough and the only good animal trade is no animal trade at all.
Now groups on both sides of the battle are wondering if the coronavirus will be the tipping point that finally changes consumer minds and in so doing hastens the anti-exotics trajectory of the luxury industry.