Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Silence of the Astrakhan

Big Fashion -- can we talk about Big Fashion the way we talk about Big Oil and Big Food? Let's do! -- is pushing a new kind of fur this fall: astrakhan. It's actually an old kind of fur with a new name.

It used to be called "Persian lamb, karakul, or in some cases broadtail," according to the NY Times. (I'm convinced that the new name is an attempt to ride the coattails of Harry Potter.)

Astrakhan is the wooly lamb skin of the karakul sheep, and, apparently, the younger the lamb, the finer the fur. Good astrakhan comes from sheep just a few days old. For the very finest fur, called "broadtail," you have to harvest the lambs before they are born. Lamb fetuses.

But for designer Carmen Marc Valvo, "That's just a little too much." So also for designer Albert Kriemler. "[He said] he would never use broadtail from a lamb fetus. The astrakhan in his designs comes from naturally born lambs . . ."

Other designers seemed similarly squeamish.

Several designers would not directly answer whether the furs they call astrakhan come from fetal lambs, but a representative for Dolce & Gabbana confirmed it uses both types in its fall collection. A spokeswoman for Marc Jacobs, whose fall collection includes an astrakhan coat trimmed with ruffles, carried by Barneys New York, said she could not determine whether it was broadtail. Prada, which has frequently identified its product as broadtail, did not respond to numerous inquiries. A spokeswoman for Mr. Armani said the fur described as astrakhan in his fall collection is not fetal lamb.
What the heck is going on here?

You may accuse me of unwarranted stereotyping if you wish, but I'm guessing that pretty much all of these designers are fully paid up members of pro-choice charities and organizations, and would probably support a woman's right to an abortion right up through the third trimester.

But they're trying to appear more humane in the fur world by saying they don't use lamb fetuses for their fur, but rather slaughter them after they're born?

Wait, wouldn't it be more humane to kill the fetuses? I'm not getting this.


Anonymous said...

"...would probably support a woman's right to an abortion right up through the third trimester."

I don't think most supporters of abortion rights support abortion on demand through the term of pregnancy. This post is beneath you, David.

David Wharton said...

Then you think my stereotyping was in fact too broad? Maybe. But haven't Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America traditionally supported a woman's right to late-term abortion, and fought every attempt to restrict that right?

If you contribute to those groups, that's what you're supporting, and it seems likely to me that NY fashion people support those kinds of groups.

I know the subject is controversial, but why is it "beneath me" to comment on the bizarrely skewed ethical sensibilities of fashion designers?

Anonymous said...

Why is it beneath you? Let us count the ways.

It is based on gross assumptions about the ethics and thought processes of the designers.

It ignores the fact that women are not sheep, and women are making the decisions about their pregnancies.

It makes the gross generalization about attitudes toward abortion noted above, which the political maneuvering of pro-abortion groups and the battles over particular medical procedures do not necessarily represent.

And it rests on the assumption that people who favor a woman's right to choose do so with no great thought or moral seriousness.

Emily said...

Ed, I thought it was common knowledge that abortion rights advocacy groups (NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood) are on record as opposing any restrictions on abortion, regardless of fetal age.

I'm not sure whether you're denying that--are you?--or whether you're saying that David doesn't actually know whether these designers support these advocacy groups...or whether you're saying that even if they do support these advocacy groups, one can't draw conclusions about whether they would themselves support no restrictions on abortion regardless of fetal age.

Perhaps you could clarify.

David, this is quite a fascinating subject you've found here. Thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

I am saying that women are not sheep, and that comparing a decision made by a woman to a decision made for a sheep is grotesque.

That David doesn't know how the people quoted feel about abortion.

That he doesn't know what groups they support or don't support.

That support for a group does not necessarily mean support for every position taken by that group.

That implying that arguing for the legal right to late-term abortion for medical reasons is the same thing as arguing for abortion on demand through the term of pregnancy is tendentious at best and perhaps a deliberate lie.

Here's what Planned Parenthood says about abortion each trimester:
"Most abortions — nearly 90 percent — are provided in the first trimester — the first three months of pregnancy. Fewer than 11 percent take place in the second trimester. Abortion is very rare and only done for serious health reasons after 24 weeks."

BillyHW said...

Great blog post David. Reminds me of this one:

Our culture is seriously confused and sick.

David Wharton said...

Ed, my original post allowed the possibility that I migh be tarring the designers with too broad a brush. If I'm a bit cynical about the ethics of the people who brought us "heroin chic," well . . . good for you for sticking up for them.

As to your point about women not being sheep, I hope I'm right in inferring that you mean that, in cases where a woman chooses to abort her unborn fetus, her decision involves judgements about her own well-being, life path, etc. Agreed.

But you've misconstrued my analogy: I was comparing babies and lambs, not women and ewes. I was thinking on the basis of a straightforward analogy:

human fetuses : infants : : lamb fetuses : lambs.

It seems to be universally accepted in pro-choice circles and among many moderate pro-lifers that the killing of unborn human fetuses is more acceptable than infanticide (though the latter practice had fairly wide acceptance in the ancient Greco-Roman world); therefore it seemed paradoxical to me that lamb fetuses should be held by anybody in higher regard than lambs, and bitterly paradoxical that, in some circles, lamb fetuses might be felt more worthy of protection than human ones. Grotesque? Indeed, if it's true.

Ed, if you support NARAL Pro-Choice America or Planned Parenthood, you also support late-term abortion on demand, and there's really no getting around that. Those groups' opposition to any restrictions on abortion has long been unequivocal, and if you send them a check, you're buying their agenda. If you think otherwise, you're just kidding yourself. It would be like sending a check to the IRA in the 70's, but saying to yourself, "I'm for Irish independence, but I don't support violence."

As to that deliberate lying bit: Planned Parentood says, "Abortion is very rare and only done for serious health reasons after 24 weeks." According to the Centers for Disease Control, 8,654 late-term abortions (21 weeks or later) were performed in 2001. That's about 23 a day. Very rare? Only when compared to the 2350 or so total abortions performed every day. I don't think Planned Parentood has any idea why all those late-term abortions were performed, but they've worked very hard to see that they can be performed for any reason whatsoever. (And if you don't think 21 weeks is late-term, you can see nice (not gruesome) pictures of human fetal development here.

Finally, nothing that I wrote "rests on the assumption that people who favor a woman's right to choose do so with no great thought or moral seriousness." In fact, I know plenty of morally serious people who disagree with me on this issue, and nothing I said indicates otherwise.

I've tried to make my own thoughts on the matter explict here; and I am willing to elaborate futher if asked.

Ed, I know that you are a moral person. But if you want me to take your position on abortion seriously, then you need to say what it is and elaborate your reasoning for me.

Anonymous said...

I'm not "defending" anyone in the fashion industry, I'm saying that the leap you made from the article to the policies of abortion rights groups belabors assumptions and stereotypes to make a point.

You say, "I'm guessing that pretty much all of these designers are fully paid up members of pro-choice charities and organizations, and would probably support a woman's right to an abortion right up through the third trimester."

So: you don't know what these people think. You don't know what groups they support, join, or contibute to. You don't know how they reconcile their personal beliefs with the policies of institutions. Thus, I find your argument a flimsy pretext to make your points about abortion.

I do not think that many people are for unrestricted access to abortion thru the third trimester. I do not think many doctors would perform such abortions without medical cause. I am not an expert on the law or on the policies of abortion-rights groups, but I think the arguments against any restrictions whatsoever are a legal strategy to prevent further inroads against legal abortion.

I am not a member or financial supporter of any such groups, although I might send a check under some circumstances. I believe that abortion should be legal, safe, and rare. I do not think it should be performed without extreme need past some point in gestation, but I do not think the legal strategies of these groups shows them to be in favor of such abortions or renders them indefensible and unsupportable. If I thought any group was advocating third-trimester abortions at will, I would oppose that group.

Anonymous said...

First, given the level of cruelty in American animal husbandry, I don't think very many care about animal reproductive rights or abortions. My guess would be that there is a generally high level of ickiness associated with wearing a product that came from INSIDE another animal.

More importantly, I think the comparison to lambs/babies is off the mark. You have previously posted about the increasing level of humaneness in the world, and about at what point we regard another human as human (forgive for not quoting actual previous posts, but I did read and enjoy them). I think what is missing from the conversation is what I consider to be the most important piece, which is that we (that is, the US, or democracies) allow individuals to make moral decisions, to the greatest extent possible. The king does not determine if I can wear fur from a lamb fetus, I do (or at least my elected officials).

So, to compare a lamb to a baby is to compare a woman to a sheep. All the females I know consider their unborn babies to be fully human, at some point. At what point, is obviously the tricky part. Who gets to decide where that point is, is what makes this a political issue. I can't think of a female that I personally know not to make that decision.

Anonymous said...

When I ran into someone whose idea of "humor" was posting "SAVE THE WHALES-HARPOON A NORWEGIAN", I asked if the use of violence to was justified to protect unborn whales. Funny, the response was silence.

Anonymous said...

"I am saying that women are not sheep, and that comparing a decision made by a woman to a decision made for a sheep is grotesque."

On the contrary:
In the case of the lamb fetus, someone else is deciding to kill it off.
In the case of the human fetus someone else is deciding to kill it off.
The only difference is, that in case of the lamb, its mother sheep is not asked about it. But then again, sheep probably wouldn't make such cruel choices humans take.
In fact, the reasoning that a killins is right just beause the mother wants it so, is the thing that is grotesque.