(Formal night on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, wearing a stole given by my mother.)
My mother bought me a 1960's-era brown fur stole from the best vintage shop in central Pennsylvania. That day, we were visiting our old home and having lunch with a favorite aunt and uncle, who have both since passed.
It was only about forty dollars and smelled a bit musty, but the fur was sumptuous. Fitted with a caramel lining, the initials L.A.H. were sewn into blocks boldly appliqued into the silky fabric.
Mom saw me petting it, and she picked it up.
“You don’t have to buy that, mom!” I protested.
“I can tell you love it”. She took it to the clerk.
I do love it.
I love old clothes and jewelry that belonged to other people. As an entertainer and a storyteller, I find treasure in the tales these objects tell, the fantasy of their journey. Who was L.A.H.? Was that stole given as an apology gift? A Christmas present? Was it a spur-of-the-moment impulse-buy as she walked past the best furrier in Williamsport on the chilliest autumn afternoon of 1963? Maybe.
Whenever I reach into my closet to admire the stole or consider it for that evenings’ dress, I think hard.
I think of my mother. I think of Aunt Carol and Uncle Wayne, who are gone now.
I think of that shop. There were lots of antique stores near my hometown, but none with such a vast inventory of vintage clothing. That’s where I first discovered a passion for fashion artifacts.
I think of how comfortable It'll feel thrown over my gown. There’s a reason why ladies wore fur…it’s effortlessly warm.
But also, I think of the poor animal.
I don’t support the modern fur trade, and I choose to pass on new fur.
I was having lunch with my photographer friend in my old neighborhood in Beverly Hills, and a man approached us and said, “Are you a model?”
“I own the furrier shop right down the block, and you are exactly our type…would you be interested in coming in to test?”
A furrier in Beverly Hills. What model doesn’t want a chance to skip the line? No cattle call audition, no agent taking twenty percent. The actual decision-maker walked right up to me at lunch. I would kill a test-shoot for luxury furs and could probably just name my day-rate.
“Oh….thank you, but…no. I….I can’t pose for fur. That’s just not for me. I’m so sorry.”
"Here's my card if you change your mind". He shrugged and walked away.
I sat seething.
Why can’t these encounters happen with the guys from David Yurman?
As a consequence, I’ve only taken my stole out on two kinds of occasions.
The first is on cruises, where I take advantage of the opportunity to strut down the decks like Jane Russell. Why not make a grand show of dressing to the nines almost every evening?
The second is at the Magic Castle, where no one is permitted to take photos, and elegance is required.
I’m too afraid to wear it anywhere else. I’m afraid I will horrify and offend someone. We have access to undercover videos on YouTube of the reality of the modern fur trade. By design, they spark a deep emotional reaction.
Just this past year, I received a personal message on my Facebook page from a woman in distress. She couldn’t concentrate on one of my videos because of my furry circle scarf. It was faux fur, of course, from Target! But it bothered her so much that she couldn’t get past it.
So my fears are justified. At any moment, a random person at the height of emotional consternation caused by my stole could destroy it while it’s on my body. I associate that stole with my mother and my Aunt, so it would surely break my heart to see it ruined.
Last week on the ship, I got dressed in my suite.
I put my hair in an updo, fastened my vintage faux-diamond choker around my neck, and found some large gold disc earrings. Then I wrapped the stole around my shoulders.
I loved the way it looked. But part of me hated myself.
At dinner, I was seated with my videographer. He and his wife are thoughtful conservationists and world travelers, and I know them to be wildlife lovers.
As I nervously twirled a few forkfuls of pasta, I wondered if the stole bothered him. Does he care? Is he offended? Has he even thought about it at all? I ordered some soup made with Fois Gras yesterday and now this, he probably thinks I’m an animal hating maniac with a coat made of puppies in my closet at home. I have to say something. I have to say something.
“Uh….I don’t support new fur….my mom gave me this as a present. I just really love it. It’s vintage. I’d never buy a new fur coat”.
“Oh!” He said, “It doesn’t bother me at all. I can tell its old. If you weren’t wearing it, it’d be at the bottom of a dump now, wouldn’t it? And that doesn’t honor the animal either.
“People didn’t know any better then. Now we know better, and we do better. No reason to waste it entirely, though. That’d be just pointless now, wouldn’t it? Then he died for nothing. More bread?”
…yes. He was right.
It’s too late for this poor creature. But look at what he’s given me. He brings my Mother to me; he brings my Aunt. When he is circled around me, its like their arms are around me.
He keeps me warm inside the chilliest rooms. And because he’s only for special occasions, he is honored whenever he is so lovingly used.
His sacrifice would be for nothing if he were thrown away. So…I’m going to keep on loving him.
But please don’t buy new fur.