I remember my late friend and animal advocate Oleg Cassini telling me once that one of his greatest regrets in life was dressing Jacqueline Kennedy with a leopard fur coat. Because of her beauty and elegance, and the buzz about the new young couple occupying the White House and the generational change it represented, the former First Lady’s fashion statement sparked a surge in interest in big-cat coats, which almost doomed many of the species and caused untold suffering to these remarkable creatures.
In recent years, the incoming First Ladies have rightly stayed away from fur—with Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Barbara Bush generally opting for cloth or wool in their public appearances. Inauguration Day occurs in the middle of winter in Washington and there’s high fashion on display, so it’s been an occasion when more than a few attendees pull out their mink, sable, and other furs.
Like Jackie Kennedy, Michelle Obama represents generational change from her predecessors—and it’s a generation far more attuned to animal protection concerns. It is my fervent hope that Michelle Obama sets the right example for all of her admirers by not wearing fur on Inauguration Day, or on any day for that matter.
The fur industry is faring poorly in a down economy, especially as an industry producing a luxury product during a time of belt-tightening. This is one industry that does not need rescue, or a lift from a stylish new First Lady. In this society, we have legal and moral standards against needless cruelty. I cannot think of anything more needless than a fur coat today, given the abundance of alternatives that exist for all of us. And there can be no doubt that fur-bearing animals suffer, whether the animals are trapped and killed in the wild or raised on fur factory farms.
We know the Obamas have a big decision to make on acquiring a dog, and we have advocated that they look to a shelter or breed rescue group as a source. But the incoming First Lady also must not make a misstep on the issue of fur. We’re happy to suggest lots of fantastic alternatives if she has the least bit of temptation.