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Wild Kingdom

It is unlawful in California to buy or sell python skin, but not to possess it: Josephine Loka embossed-leather lace-up pants (at Bleu, on La Brea Avenue)

Oh man! Control thyself.

—From a Jain tenet

Recently, while trolling a trend emporium, navigating racks upon racks of mad-hatter creations, I was nearly overcome with the urge to grab one of the salespeople studiously ignoring me and ask, “Where do you keep the good-looking clothes?” I was alarmed less by the appliquéd denim, though, than by the snippets of fur trim and clothes made from leather. Contemporary couture is littered with carrion, but far down the food and sartorial chain, where the likes of you and me do our shopping, the hunting is just as brisk. The Gap is pushing leather jeans in oxblood and baby blue, Banana Republic is hustling buttery suede, and ponyskin shoes and plumed purses constitute a veritable Noah’s ark of department-store fashion.

Let’s get this out of the way: Apart from Inuits and cavemen, fur looks repulsive when worn by any creature whose DNA did not produce it in the first place. It’s also unconscionable. At this point in human evolution, after years of animal-rights muckraking, no thinking person can ignore what it means to wear fur. At this point, to wear fur is no longer an act of ignorance — ignorance about the grotesque mistreatment of factory-farmed animals, ignorance about death by strychnine, anal electrocution, stomping, neck snapping, trapping. To wear fur is to revel, even glory, in that suffering.

Yet after being shamed into the closet, fur is back, along with alligator, buffalo, python and ostrich, the hot new attractions at the charnel houses of Chanel, Fendi and Prada. To be blunt, it’s hard not to think that the vogue for dead animals is simply fuck-you fashion in a fuck-you culture. If the 1990s were all about taking responsibility, the dawn of the 21st century seems very much about refusing responsibility altogether. From the minor aggression of billowing cigar smoke to the screw-you bonhomie of SUVs, we are, increasingly, living in a world exhausted by responsibility. The costs are obvious, the Weltanschauung unnerving. The pure life is surely impossible, but why are we so eager to embrace the worst in ourselves?

I’m asking because I wrestle daily with my own cruelty. As a vegetarian, I have struggled to eradicate dead-animal products from my life. I still eat dairy and wear wool, and, contrary to PETA, I don’t think companion animals are wrong. I don’t often engage in discussions about vegetarianism and animal rights because there’s nothing to discuss: I think animal eaters and exploiters have blood on their hands, so what’s the point? There is also the fact that I’m painfully aware of my own hypocrisy. In the years during which I’ve eaten no meat, I have bought leather boots and running shoes. In the last year alone, I acquired two pairs of perilously elevated leather heels that I am convinced make my legs look longer.

This is human vanity, and admitting such frailty is difficult. I know I have blood on my hands too, or, more specifically, on my feet. But if the pure life is impossible, even misguided, that doesn’t also mean that the purely corrupt life is any sort of alternative. Giving up meat but not giving up leather shoes is hypocritical, but it’s not pointless. If that were the case, then donating to charities, being kind to creatures large and small, and fighting the good fight would be pointless as well. Consider this: During the four months of the rainy season in India, Jain monks do not travel, because only on dry ground can a monk be certain he’s not crushing another living being underfoot. That may be absurd, but life is absurd, and there are few things more necessary than the eradication of suffering, however puny, ignoble and mute the sufferer.


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