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Why furrier Yves Salomon dismisses the anti-fur movement that is sweeping fashion

Going fur-free is not just a hot topic among consumers. In recent months, several luxury fashion brands, including Michael Kors, Gucci and Versace, have banned the use of fur (and the list keeps growing).

It's enough to make any furrier quake in their boots " that's unless you're Thomas Salomon, fourth-generation owner of fur company Yves Salomon.

"What's happening right now is just a fashion cycle. In fact, I call it the hypocrite cycle. It's easy for brands to cut [fur] out when it makes up less than 0.1 per cent of their turnover. Plus half the time these brands don't have a consistent strategy," says Salomon.

"Who decided that crocodile, leather and shearling are OK but not fur? They are all the same. Besides, many of the brands who go fur-free are those that need a voice in the industry and are not necessarily performing well."

Yves Salomon is best known in fashion circles for its fur-trimmed military parka. Launched in 2006 under its younger Army line, it became an instant bestseller and went on to inspire other brands to create their own version.

A fur from the Yves Salomon autumn/winter 2018 collection

The brand's fashion pedigree was established long before that, and can be traced back four generations to Greg Salomon, a fur supplier and trader in Russia. He and his family emigrated to France, where they built a business that enjoyed continuous success until the 1980s. It was then that his grandson, Yves, decided to launch an in-house collection of ready-to-wear furs under his name.

"Prior to this the majority of our business was supplying skins and manufacturing for brands like Jean Paul Gaultier, Montana, Azzedine Alaia, Sonia Rykiel and Yves Saint Laurent. When I joined the company this business accounted for 50 per cent of our turnover. Today it only contributes 10 per cent, while 90 per cent represents Yves Salomon," says Salomon.

A piece from the Yves Salomon autumn/winter 2018 collection. Thomas Salomon is pushing fashion-forward outerwear as a growth vector.

Much has changed since he joined the company a decade ago. While Yves Salomon was initially sold through multi-brand retailers, it has gone on to launch a global network of stores and shops-within-shops; there are 30 now, with plans to open more. Two years ago the brand launched a seasonal summer collection featuring more casual pieces. Last year it made its first foray online, with an e-commerce boutique.

Success usually brings challenges and one in particular " the growing anti-fur sentiment " has required the company to re-examine its supply chain and accountability. This led to the introduction of more detailed labels listing the country where the fur in a garment was sourced, whether it's wild or farmed, and even an animal's lot number at the farm. Customers can request to visit its farms to see how the animals are treated.

"What we need to work on more is transparency and the welfare of the animal. To be honest, we are using more and more by-product. It accounts for almost 50 per cent of the collection. Almost 100 per cent of our collection is sourced from farm-raised animals. There isn't as much waste as people think " the oil can be used for make-up and other industries," says Thomas.

A patchwork look from Yves Salomon's new Pieces collection for autumn/winter 2018 made from old skins and pelts.

To emphasise the sustainability of fur, the brand has just launched its Pieces collection for autumn/winter, which features striking patchwork coats made from old skins and pelts from past seasons.

"For me fur is the number one sustainable product in the whole fashion industry. You're not wearing it for one season. Fur has a longevity to it " you can use it for years, then repurpose it. Which other materials can you do that with?" says Salomon.

Aside from environmental and moral challenges, Yves Salomon also has to contend with growing competition. While it leverages its heritage as a specialist in fur, it is moving in a new direction as a fashion-forward outerwear label.

To help achieve this it has a design team of 25 " including an alumnus of Vetements, the French fashion and accessories label launched a decade ago by Georgia's Demna Gvasalia " and a 25-strong research and development team that creates innovative fabrics and materials that complement animal skins.

A fur-collared down coat from the Yves Salomon autumn/winter 2018 collection.

The results can be seen in the upcoming collection, which features more shearling pieces, including a super soft shearling "cashmere" and a shaved fabric that resembles mink.

Other outerwear designs features combinations of colours or materials such as patent leather and mink. More fashion-forward styles feature intarsia, multi-coloured stripes and prints (including an eye-catching leopard print).

Instead of the parka, Salomon is placing a big bet on the down jacket, which comes in various permutations.

One thing you will not see in any of the brand's future collections, however, is faux fur.

"It's funny because we call fake fur 'ecological' but in reality the only true ecological fur is real fur. Fake fur is made using plastic and oil, yet it's popular because customers think it's better for the environment. What exactly is the advantage? It's just clever marketing," Salomon says.

"Fur, for me and many others, is still a luxury, exclusive product. Fewer brands do it and the number will get less, but that only works in our favour," he adds.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2018. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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