Fur Sales Are Illegal in California. Does Anyone Care?

LOS ANGELES — From the overcast coasts of San Francisco to the nippy shores of Newport Beach, the denizens of California will have to rethink their approach to buying fur — that is, if they think about it at all.

So a law banning the sale and manufacture of luxury pelts like mink, sable, chinchilla, lynx, fox, rabbit and beaver that went into effect in California in January has so far been largely met with a shrug — and one decidedly not of the fur variety.

“I honestly think it’s much ado about nothing,” said Cameron Silver, the longtime owner of the high-end designer vintage shop Decades. “So many brands have stopped doing fur anyway — Valentino, Gucci, Dolce — there’s just a shift,” he said.

Nicole Pollard Bayme, a native Angeleno and the founder of the personal styling and shopping service Lalaluxe, said she hadn’t seen people wearing fur for years. “This isn’t some new thing,” she said. “So, no, it’s not like ‘boohoo, it’s going away.’”

She added: “There was a bigger ripple when Chanel stopped selling crocodile.”

With California’s mild climate and eco-conscious reputation, some have said that a ban on fur sales in the state is more of a symbolic gesture than practical measure.

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The statewide ban, the first of its kind in the country, codifies what was a growing movement happening at the city level in recent years. (Los Angeles, West Hollywood, San Francisco and Berkeley had similar bans before.) This law extends the city bans already in effect in some areas across the country’s most populous state, one that, despite certain clichés, encompasses a wide variety of landscapes and political affiliations.

“California is a big state, and there are parts that are very snowy,” said Laura Friedman, who represents California’s 44th Assembly District and who drafted the legislation. “I just flew over Northern California mountains, and they’re covered in snow. And people also wear garments here for status purposes.”

Ms. Friedman said the legislation emerged out of concern for animal welfare as well as the “unsustainability of raising and killing animals strictly for their fur.”

“We wanted to get that out of the California product chain,” she said.

Laura Friedman, an assemblywoman in California, introduced the legislation, motivated by concern for animal welfare. The bill was signed into law in 2019 but didn’t go into effect until January.Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

But cultural norms may be further ahead of the state’s legislature.

“Buying real fur is not part of the conversation, to be honest,” said Vanessa Shokrian, a wardrobe and editorial stylist in Los Angeles. “People are not dying for it. I think faux fur has become an industry because of it.”

Though, as the recent uproar over the Schiaparelli couture show — which prominently featured the fake heads of a snow leopard, wolf and lion adorned with silk pelts — demonstrated, even faux fur can prove controversial. (To complicate matters, fake fur is often made from plastics, making its status as “sustainable” a source of contention as well.)

Still, Ms. Pollard Bayme noted that some of her clients — many of whom are high profile — did own fur pieces, and they are still able to wear them under the current law. “But we’re advising our clients to not wear fur in L.A.,” she said.

And while California may not be Paris, St. Moritz or Moscow, where fur is de rigueur, the state still has its own connection with the fur trade. “People did used to wear them to the opera, at restaurants, movie premieres, tea parties, to the Oscars and, of course, in the movies,” said Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, the author of “Worn on This Day: The Clothes That Made History.”

Popular California designers of Hollywood’s Golden Age, like Gilbert Adrian, who dressed Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, and James Galanos, who outfitted Nancy Reagan and was popular among socialites, were known to use fur trimmings in their work. Mr. Galanos even had an entire licensed line, Galanos Furs.

“There was a lot of fur, but if you look closely, it’s often a fur stole or a coat with a fur collar because it really was too hot,” Ms. Chrisman-Campbell said.

Real fur may be out of fashion in California, but parts of the state were once home to furriers that dressed wealthy clientele. Credit…Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis, via Getty Images

There was also, for a time, a robust fur business in Los Angeles, with furriers concentrated in the city’s downtown garment district in the mid-20th century. Many department stores in Beverly Hills housed fur “studios” or “salons” catering to wealthy clientele. And since fur coats ‌also ‌require upkeep, to discourage the evaporation of naturally occurring oils in the pelts that keep them soft and pliable, many local furriers or luxury stores would offer refrigerated storage during the summer months, Ms. Chrisman-Campbell noted.

The fur business began to wane in the late 1980s, with the collision of warming weather, an economic crash and rising animal rights activism. Since then, technological advances in textiles have yielded fabrics like Gore-Tex and various polyester blends that are both lightweight and weatherproof, which have hastened the market’s decline — so have consumer preferences, which have broadly trended toward ‌more casual attire.

“Tastes have changed,” said Mr. Silver, the vintage shop owner.

While it may be seen as a symbolic undertaking to some, California’s fur ban could have a far-reaching impact. “Fur is such a nonnecessity in Los Angeles,” Mr. Silver said. “But what’s that saying? As goes California, so goes the nation.”

Lawmakers in New York City introduced a proposal to ban fur sales in 2019, the same year California passed its law — yet another example of the New York-California mind-meld.

And perhaps there is an imperceptible shift at play. “I will say that in 2019, with my clients, there was a conversation about — what do I do with all these furs that I’ve collected now that it’s politically incorrect?” Ms. Pollard Bayme said.

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