Merchants say West Hollywood’s fur ban doesn’t fit high-fashion image
The mannequin in the window of the Goldsmith & Klein fashion boutique in West Hollywood wore a sultry expression and a luxurious chocolate-brown fox fur stole draped over her arm.
Next to the mannequin was a printed quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”
The window display was one of several protests by merchants against West Hollywood’s first-in-the-nation ban on fur apparel. After two years of debate, the ban takes effect Saturday.
West Hollywood is famous for its laws aimed at protecting creatures big and small. It declared itself a “cruelty-free zone for animals” and passed a slew of animal-friendly laws including bans on cat declawing; the retail sale of cats and dogs; and, just this week, exotic- and wild-animal performances.
But in the case of fur, the city’s zeal to protect animals is running up against its claim as a capital of high fashion. The boulevards in and around the city limits — notably Beverly, Melrose and Robertson — are lined with designer shops.
Although some residents praise the city’s socially conscious stand on fur, the ban has angered many business owners. Retailers with multiple locations are busily moving fur products to stores outside West Hollywood.
Independent boutiques, such as Darrel Adams’ Kin store on Sunset Boulevard, are seeing if suppliers will take back some of the fall fur coats on order. Furs make up a small fraction of Adams’ collections but are among the priciest items.
“The furs are sometimes the most expensive pieces in the collection, so it affects sales dramatically, especially if you sell it at a larger percentage,” he said. “To cut off someone’s big-ticket item makes it hard for a business to survive.”
Darren Gold, chairman of the board of the West Hollywood Design District, said the city has worked hard to establish itself as a premier fashion destination, attracting a collection of both established luxury brands and independent designers. The ban, he said, is a slap in the face.
“It’s detrimental to our image as a West Coast fashion capital and could prevent fashion houses from choosing West Hollywood,” Gold said.
Despite its politically incorrect connotations, fur continues to be a mainstay on the catwalk. International fur sales were at $15.6 billion last year, including $1.3 billion nationally, said Keith Kaplan, executive director of the Fur Information Council of America, a fur industry trade group. The organization, headquartered in West Hollywood, is considering a lawsuit to block the ban.
Genevieve Morrill, president and chief executive of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, has received numerous calls in recent days from retailers confused about what they can and cannot sell.
The ban applies only to “wearing apparel,” which includes shoes, hats and gloves but not pocketbooks and purses.
It includes shearling, a sheepskin or lambskin pelt that has gone through limited shearing. Popular Ugg boots that contain shearling are banned. Leather is not banned.
Fur blankets are not banned. But sleeved blankets containing fur — and meant to be worn — are. Secondhand stores selling used fur products are not affected.
A retailer caught selling fur can be charged with a misdemeanor if it receives more than three citations within a year.
Though the city is home to numerous interior-design businesses as well as the Pacific Design Center, the ban does not apply to the sale of fur furniture or other non-wearable items.
The ban is “a symbolic gesture that unfortunately affects businesses unfairly,” Morrill said. “In some cases, those products are the main lifeblood for the stores ... and it will be devastating.”
The ban on fur apparel was approved in fall 2011, and city officials said they sought input from store owners and residents. During one boisterous seven-hour hearing, hundreds of people — many from out of town — crowded into council chambers and gave council members a standing ovation after the vote.
“West Hollywood is a very progressive community that puts a lot of emphasis on social justice and welfare,” Councilman Jeffrey Prang said. “People care about the humane treatment of animals.”
Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico campaigned on animal rights when running for City Council in 2011. He introduced the ban just after his election.
“We’re doing the best we can to live in the world the right way,” D’Amico said of the ordinance during a council meeting this week.
D’Amico and Prang said they know their ban is largely symbolic because fur is widely available just outside the city limits, in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. But they hope the law sends a message.
For some merchants, it’s the wrong message.
David Klein, co-owner of Goldsmith & Klein, opened the Roberston Boulevard shop just down the street from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. headquarters in August 2011, a few months before officials approved the ban.
He and Rebecca Goldsmith, who have designed gowns for such celebrities as Eva Longoria and Kathy Griffin, were thrilled to be opening in the tony city.
“A Robertson address was something to be proud of,” he said. “We thought of West Hollywood as definitely a destination to put a boutique store up.”
They didn’t know about the ban as they were negotiating their store lease, he said. If they had, they never would have opened in West Hollywood.
They put up the fur protest in their window. Then last year, they closed their store, vowing to reopen somewhere that allows fur.
Black vests accented with raccoon fur, selling for $395, lined a rack in Kitson, a trendy clothing store on Melrose Avenue, this week. To comply with the ban, employees will simply move fur items to other Kitson boutiques a few blocks away, just outside city limits, said Courtney Saavedra, Kitson’s director of operations.
“I don’t know that what they set out to accomplish through the fur ban will really be accomplished, because we still are able to have sales from the merchandise,” Saavadra said. “Los Angeles will benefit from those tax dollars, and West Hollywood won’t.”
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