Commentary

FTC Finds Fake Fur Is Real

It a seems like a panel in a Bizarro Superman comic book plot, where everything is the opposite of what it should be. In what the New York Times’ Julie Creswell calls a “forehead-slapping development,” the Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday a preliminary settlement with Neiman Marcus and two other retailers over marketing some clothing items that falsely claimed that they contained fake fur. 

“For example, Neiman on its website described a $1,295 cardinal red Burberry Outerwear Jacket as featuring a ‘black faux-fur hood with snap-tab detail,’” reports Jenna Greene on Law.com. “The label on the actual coat, however, disclosed that the fur is real.”

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“That’s right,” Creswell writes, “it was faux faux fur.” In other words, as the Wall Street Journal’s Melodie Warner writes, “If you advertise fake fur, it had better really be fake.”

The Washington Post’s Craig Timberg reports that the settlements “ended probes initiated after complaints by the Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights group that has run private investigations in recent years to expose what it says is a widespread problem of mislabeled fur products,” 

Timberg also points out that “neither the FTC nor the Humane Society alleged that the labeling problems were part of an intentional strategy by the retailers to mislead consumers who might prefer synthetic alternatives to fur.” 

But the mislabeling could result in consumers who want to avoid clothing using animal products to purchase them unwittingly. Earlier this month, the Humane Society garnered headlines with charges that Marc Jacobs jackets being sold at Century 21 department stores actually contain dog hair. 

“Anybody who doesn’t want to buy animal fur should be very angry that a product that they’re trying to avoid is being misrepresented as a product they may want to buy,” Pierre Grzybowski of the Humane Society’s Fur Free Campaign said in a piece about “Manhattan assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal [helping the] rights group trap fur sellers” that ran in the New York Daily News.

Fur has been hot for several fashion cycles. “Fur is everywhere this season, in ways that designers hope will take some of the edge away from its usual critics,” HuffPost Green’s Samantha Critchell wrote in November 2010. “Some top labels, including Chanel and Nina Ricci, put faux fur on the runway that was indistinguishable even by trained eyes from the real thing.” 

Noting the trend in both high-end and mass-market fashion in the summer of 2011, The Los Angeles Times’ Melissa Magsaysay wrote that retailers, online and off, were “full of garments with materials that look like mink, cheetah or beaver” and singled out “the improved quality and realistic nature of materials coming from Europe and Japan.” Magsaysay cites a faux fur mink coat by designer Naeem Khan listed at $900 on HSN that would have cost upwards of $10,000 if it were real.

“Fur-trimmed items have been trendy lately among fans of both real and fake fur,” the WSJ’s Warner reported yesterday. “Faux fur has become more authentic, but [it] travels through a separate supply chain, requires different equipment when making garments, and would be hard to confuse with the original during the manufacturing process, people in the business say.”

The Humane Society has posted a PDF, “Field Guide to Telling Animal Fur from Fake Fur,” on its website.

A CBS/AP story details the charges against Neiman Marcus, DrJays.com and Eminent, doing business under the name Resolve Clothing, and reports that “under the proposed settlement, the retailers would be prohibited from violating the laws for 20 years.”

Not everyone was satisfied with what Alexander Abad-Santos calls a “slap on the wrist” on the Atlantic Wire. “So, essentially the punishment for breaking the Fur Act laws -- laws that say that you can't use false advertising when it comes to fur, that you have to tell customers where the animal fur comes from, and that you can't inappropriately label pieces of clothing -- is to promise you won't break them ... again,” Abad-Santos writes.

At least one animal-rights activist quoted in Critchell’s HuffPost article worried a few years ago that the resurgence of fake fur trim would lead to increased demand for real fur. But you have to be a real cynic --wouldn’t you? -- to have anticipated that the use of fake fur would result in the use of real fur pretending to be fake fur. 

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