Book Review: The Cultural Politics of Fur

Fur is in, let’s face it. And it’s controversial. With many designers and celebrities passionately advocating or denouncing it (think GaGa’s dead Kermit outfit), PETA targeting high-profile designers like Michael Kors and Isaac “All I want to do is wear fur pants!” Mizrahi, and the United States Humane Society loudly exposing the false labeling of raccoon dog hides as faux, the debate about fur has far from abated. The issue runs deeper than animal rights, however, and fur’s connotations with fetishism, feminism and functionality are pervasive and date back hundreds of years. The Cultural Politics of Fur is an academic account of the many social dimensions of this notorious commodity, a fashion as old as our species.

The book is framed by contemporary discussions of fur, covering fur-related campaigns (Diesel advertising for and Lynx protesting against), its role as the main source of income for First Nations peoples, and the symbolic implications of women wearing fur fashions. The majority of the text, however, is devoted to history, discussing sumptuary legislations about fur and its representations in fine art prior to the 19th century, as well as to the masochistic connotations of fur fetishism, especially in Venus in Furs. In these sections, Emberley frequently wanders onto topics that are barely relevant to her discussions of fur, such as object representation in fine art, the historical shift in the image-text relationship during the 20th century, and the exclusion of First Nations people from organized labour. While these topics are applicable, too much time is spent on extraneous details, and the book begins to feel long and disjointed. Specific films like The Joyless Street and Paris is Burning are used illustrate certain points, but when Emberley relays every detail and plotline I began to think her arguments would stand better on their own.
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Jenny Wornette

Starting with hand-me-downs from an older cousin in the States (think a bright blue t-shirt affixed with fake blonde curly ribbon hair and real curlers—yeah, I was stylish), I have always loved clothes with a bit of history to them. Maybe I’m just wildly sentimental, but anything borrowed from Mom and Dad or with memories attached gets definite prominence in my wardrobe. As a first-year student at McGill, my rhinestone-kitty t-shirt and pineapple-splattered legging days are over, but I still love wearing clothes that carry a little baggage: thrifting is always an adventure (even if I get a little too ambitious with what I think I can fix) and “something borrowed” always applies.

I do love fashion but have never been very involved in it, so I am excited for this opportunity at WORN to discover new inspirations and ways to look at clothes!

Current Inspirations

Proenza Schouler (Pre-Fall 2010)
Though at first I didn’t really understand all the blog hype about the Pre-Fall line, “school-boy chic” has come to infiltrate my wardrobe and my mood (very studious lately), as the comfy sweaters and collared shirts are perfect for winter library trips.

Illustrations by Jonathan Bartlett
This menswear designer has inspired me recently with his bizarre and thematic illustrations. While not the main focus, fashion plays a major role in his images.

Nigel Evan Dennis
I love the design work of Nigel Evan Dennis. I first came across his personal site but soon fell in love with his commercial portfolio, filled with corporate and underground works for Lipton Tea through URB magazine.

The Selby
As I hunt for furniture and décor ideas (I am moving into my first apartment!) this site is a great space for inspiration. Todd Selby combines photographs and illustrations to exhibit creative people in their homes, from Christian Louboutin to virtually unknown artists and entrepreneurs.

The Girls from Myexcloset.com
Hayley Dineen and Cassie Cowie turned their love for fashion into a booming business venture by founding the fashion resale project Myexcloset. Their site reinvents thrift shopping for the younger set but caters to all ages, and the girls are too sweet for words!