MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Under the leaden, snow-filled sky of the notorious Moscow winter, commuters rush to work, their heels teetering on ice, and almost every woman -- and a few men -- wear fur.
In a country which suffers long winters where temperatures regularly drop to minus 30 Celsius, fur is viewed as a necessity, and the animal rights activists of the West are nowhere in sight. Perhaps, because they might freeze to death.
“I think it would be fun to put (anti-fur campaigner) Pamela Anderson for a few weeks here in Russia, in Siberia, and see how she is going to try survive. It’s impossible,” said Natalya Turovnikova, Russian regional manager of Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest furrier.
“Our business has not been negatively affected at all by animal rights activists,” she added.
The lucrative fur business, which the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) puts at about $12 billion annual turnover, sees Russia -- a land free from campaigners -- as a promising market.
“Russia makes up more than half of my fur sales. The potential here is huge,” Welsh designer Julien Macdonald, whose extensive use of fur has brought him plenty of criticism in Britain, told Reuters.
“The hassle, the death threats, everything that goes with it I’ve had, but it’s never changed my mind and I do it because I need to... It makes more money than any other part of my business,” Macdonald said on the sidelines of the International Herald Tribune’s Luxury conference this week in Moscow.
Luxury executives, designers and Saudi royalty gathered at the city’s most expensive hotel for the conference, which dedicated half a day to fur and held a fur fashion show.
“The outlook for the Russian fur market is optimal,” said a russet mink-clad Carla Fendi, one of five Fendi sisters whose parents set up the fashion house in 1925.
“We make fur because people like it, the sensation it creates on your skin. As for being controversial, what about the people who use silk? Those animals also die,” Fendi, whose business sells a third of its fur in Russia, said.
Later, Russian designers showed off fur creations to a champagne-sipping crowd at the Historical Museum on Red Square.
Under high ceilings elaborately decorated with paintings of Russian saints, slinky models posed in cardigans, skirts, jackets, dresses and shoes made entirely from fur.
Embroidered sable, dyed-purple fox and fur from wild cats with gold glitter also featured.
“Look, if we lived in a country that refused to eat meat, I would be against using fur,” fur wizard and one of the evening’s designers, Igor Chapurin, said.
“If we say a person’s life is sacred, that means every single person. It should be the same for animals, not just for those we don’t eat. I’ve thought a lot about it,” said Chapurin, whose models wore sheared white mink dresses with balloon sleeves.
Kopenhagen Fur, which sells Chapurin all his fur, produce 40 percent of the world’s minks, bred on farms in Denmark. Most fox comes from Finland and Norway.
“The first time I visited a fur farm, I thought minks in Denmark live much better than Russian people. We have 100 percent interest in animals’ lives,” Turovnikova said.
The IFTF says Russia and the United States are the largest buyers of fur, while western Europe takes a more cautious approach.
But not everyone in Russia approves of the lust for pelts.
“Consuming is a huge responsibility. Just think about it, when you buy a bag, I don’t want to sound depressing but you kill an animal,” Russia’s richest and most well-known model, Natalya Vodianova, said.
“I would just like to encourage people, Russian people, to be a conscious consumer like the rest of Europe.”
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato