Rat fur: the latest fashion accessory Yes, the bayou water rat is the latest must-have accessory on the catwalk.
Mink, sable, chinchilla, fox, rabbit – fur is back in fashion. But joining the ranks of these exclusive pelts this winter will be fur from an unlikely source – rat.
That is the bayou water rat, to be precise, 60cm long, weighing around 9kg and more genteelly known as the nutria – but rat nonetheless. Its fur has appeared on a number of autumn/winter 2010 catwalks. Alabama-based designer Billy Reid chose nutria fur for collars, hats and an evening cape. Fashion house J Mendel showed it patchworked with more precious pelts on coats and gilets. And Oscar de la Renta deployed it as a thick trim on the hem of sumptuous jewel-toned coats. "The ladies of Park Avenue will be mighty pleased indeed," Style.com swooned. But is it ethical? And can rat fur carry the same sense of luxury as, say, mink? Alas Mr de la Renta was busy "in fittings all day for the Resort collection", a spokesperson explained, and unavailable to comment.
Park Avenue, where lots of Oscar de la Renta fans shop, is a long way from the marshland of southern Louisiana, where nutria thrive to the point of environmental degradation. Originally introduced by fur farmers, the semi-aquatic rodents either escaped or were released into the marshes when pelt prices plummeted in the 1930s. "We thought the alligator populations were going to control them," says Edmond Mouton, biologist programme manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Instead, the species have bred, well, like rats.
The rodents wreak havoc by gnawing through the roots of marsh plants, and efforts to curb the population include a statewide bounty. Licensed trappers receive $5 for every tail they turn into coastal collection stations: 445,963 nutria were culled in the just-concluded 2009-2010 season.
Last autumn New Orleans-based artist Cree McCree launched a fashion initiative for ethically sourced nutria fur. "I want to show the remarkable ways that nutria can be used and highlight how vital it is to protect our wetlands," she says.
Yup, wrap yourself up in rat this season; can I also interest madam in some nice Cockroach earrings that accessorize the look perfectly?