Mink, sable, chinchilla, fox, rabbit — fur is back in fashion. But joining the ranks of these exclusive pelts this winter will be fur from an unlikely source — rat.
That is, the bayou water rat, more genteelly known as the nutria — but rat nonetheless. Its fur has appeared on a number of autumn/winter 2010 catwalks. Alabama-based designer Billy Reid chose nutria fur for collars, hats and an evening cape. Fashion house J Mendel showed it patchworked with more precious pelts on coats and gilets. And Oscar de la Renta deployed it as a thick trim on the hem of sumptuous jewel-toned coats.
“The ladies of Park Avenue will be mighty pleased indeed,” style.com swooned. But is it ethical? And can rat fur carry the same sense of luxury as, say, mink? Though the designers evade a comment, it appears killing nutria for fur is more a necessity.
The marshland of southern Louisiana is where nutria thrive to the point of environmental degradation. “We thought the alligator populations would control them,” says Edmond Mouton, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. So licensed trappers receive $5 for every tail they turn into coastal collection stations: 445,963 nutria were culled in the just-concluded 2009-2010 season.
Last autumn New Orleans-based artist Cree McCree launched a fashion initiative for ethically sourced nutria fur. “I want to show the remarkable ways that nutria can be used and highlight how vital it is to protect our wetlands,” she says. She has sold nutria teeth earrings for $30 and necklaces for $60-75.