Daniel Roseberry opened the gates of hell in more ways than one with his spring 2023 couture offering for Schiaparelli. The collection, inspired in part by Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno,” fanned the burning flames of online discourse—a layer of damnation Alighieri would’ve certainly doomed some of his subjects to had he known about the state of the internet in 2023.
Down the catwalk they pounced. Shalom Harlow in a cocktail dress completely covered in a facsimile of a leopard’s snowy pelt, replete with a snarling head at the bust; Irina Shayk in a black velvet column topped with a proud lion, its tongue visibly raised in the hunt for its next meal; Naomi Campbell in a shaggy fur coat, a wolf’s snout popping out from the left shoulder like a deleted scene from 2018’s Annihilation.
Artisanally crafted from foam, resin, wool, and hand-painted silk faux fur, they’re a calculated conversation starter (to cynics, an empty gimmick) in an era of discourse around whether wealth should whisper or roar. Clearly, Roseberry has taken a side.
Even if man-made, Schiaparelli’s creations were disquieting in their brazenness, not least to tens of thousands of vocal commenters across the brand’s Instagram posts. Words like disturbing, disgusting, and shameful flowed with venomous anger. One user summed up their feelings simply with, “Bad idea! Bad taste!” A surreal leopard became synonymous with the cruelty of killing the real thing.
Yet as supermodels sauntered in recreations of exotic skins and a firestorm of outrage ensued, one nuance got lost in the tumult. Roseberry’s choice to showcase an overly literal interpretation of iconic source material inadvertently made every other brand’s petroleum-derived faux fur look tame by comparison. How easy for a brand to write a flippant caption about its next drop of faux-fur coats: Hey, at least ours don’t have faces for you to feel bad for.
In this quickness to share alarm over how these pieces may represent or glorify game hunting, hot-take havers fail to account for the real harm, both environmental and ethical, that exists at the center of faux-fur production.
Makers of plastic fur alternatives—made mostly from polyester, a nonbiodegradable fiber expected to reach $174.7 billion in sales by 2032—can now retool their messaging to scoop up sympathy from the madding crowd. And yet a trace of the true self exists in the false self.
The hyperreality of aesthetic experiments like those at Schiaparelli turns our gaze away from how we consume other animal products in fashion, such as leather from cows, that also directly bump up against factory-farming practices in the food industry. So why worry over a lion head made from silk and wool when so much leather is wasted to make endless amounts of crappy, throwaway stuff?
In place of introspection, knee-jerk responses on social media purely see the surface image as the prime source of the most brutality. A fake lion’s head, merely a hyperreal imitation of a safari symbol, might as well directly “provoke dangerous behavior and glamorize both trophy hunting and animal violence,” as one Instagram commenter put it.
The more I reflected, the more I became convinced that the true heart of darkness was in telling ourselves that we can buy our way toward sustainability in the first place. But then, is there any way to ethically wear fur, faux or otherwise?
PETA’s praise of the collection as “fabulously innovative” feels like an about-face from its iconic “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign. In its zealous quest to ride the PR coattails of front-row lion wearer Kylie Jenner, the animal-rights group wasted momentum amidst a rare moment of united disillusion among vegans and omnivores alike. PETA could have urged the public to buy secondhand fur because it’s a more sustainable option than using raw materials to create new textiles, of which more than 11 billion tons went to landfills in the United States in 2018 alone.
When I asked fellow vintage dealers about their feelings on real fur purchased secondhand, most were similarly pragmatic, citing its lower environmental impact and warmth as reasons to buy it over anything new. One buyer noted, “The energy has already been put into it and has so much more output.”
Another went further, feeling a sense of duty to “not let the animals have died in vain.” Thankfully, truly cherishing what already exists in circulation, including real vintage fur that will biodegrade, is a practical, thoughtful, and viable personal solution we can all take advantage of.
It’s important to turn our gaze to the ever-increasing profit of fast-fashion labels that sell faux en masse while labeling it vegan or cruelty-free. As last season’s pieces sit unworn or—worst of all—discarded in landfills, these brands won’t receive the same pushback seen in response to the Schiaparelli show.
In a statement about the looks, Schiaparelli said, “It is a reminder that there is no such thing as heaven without hell; there is no joy without sorrow; there is no ecstasy of creation without the torture of doubt.”
This show and the myriad responses it generated demonstrate that there is no good taste without bad, no real without faux, no haute couture triumph without fast-fashion excess. Within moments engineered for virality and earned-media value, we cannot allow these illusions to hijack our attention spans. The market forces worth fighting against are at once far less glamorous and way more powerful than the hellishly alluring visions of couture.