Fur - An Issue of Life and Death


At one extreme you get people whose whole life revolves around design - names, companies, styles, the latest and the best - and at the other extreme people who insist that they know nothing about design - state categorically they are not interested in design - and normally finish by saying that they simply know what they like.  Curiously, it is often those very people, the non-designers - who are wearing the latest and the best training shoes and judge people they meet by the label on the jeans they are wearing. Fashion is the one discipline of the design World that people who do not work in the design World actually do often know about. 

Although I like buying good clothes and despite spending much of my time thinking about design, I’m not actually that interested in fashion - the reason why posts here about fashion are few and far between. I’ve never been to a fashion show and I can only recognise the most obvious designers if shown an outfit. For that reason, and also because I do have misgivings about fur used for fashion, I had not been to the current exhibition at the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen - Fur - An Issue of Life and Death.

I was at the museum on Sunday in the shop trying to track down a book I wanted. Half way out of the door I thought that as I was there I might as well have a quick look at the exhibition and actually I was very glad that I did.



This is a beautifully presented and very clever and thought-provoking exhibition.

The two main displays face each other across the space with a curve of mannequins wearing traditional clothing from Greenland, North America, Siberia and Scandinavia facing an arc of figures wearing ‘fashionable’ clothing in fur.



At the centre - between fashion and tradition - are very informative displays about the raising of animals for pelts and about traditional methods of hunting and preparing the skins. The labels are completely unbiased, non-political, simply presenting the information and statistics without comments … for instance there is a straightforward map of Europe that shows which countries allow farming of animals for fur and those countries where it is banned.



Interactive displays around the edges are, in some ways, more interesting, encouraging people to decide. There are panels where you can feel samples of fur and have to guess if it is real or fake before lifting the flap to reveal the answer; there are interviews with people on the street asking them about what they think about fur for clothing and asking them why they are wearing natural fur or why they are wearing fake fur and there is one area where visitors can try on a range of fur coats and stand in front of a large projected image to take a selfie but by swiping a touch screen they can select different backgrounds for their photos from a grand interior - suggesting curiously that maybe fur was OK for grand people living in grand house? - to a fashion cat walk to an image that puts you in a fur coat standing in front of an anti fur protest.

The use of new technology here for information and for labels is superb - I particularly liked the use of a thermal imaging camera where you can hold in front of yourself or wear coats in different fabrics and in fur to see how much or how little body heat escapes - and fur does do a very good job of keeping you warm.

The traditional costumes are amazing both for their diversity and for the incredible craftsmanship. And there the ethics question is maybe easier because fur is a natural material and was all that was available. 

If you don’t want to confront your own political and ethical views about the use of fur for fashion clothing it is still well worth going to see the exhibition just look at those traditional clothes. 



The exhibition at Nationalmuseet continues until 22 February 2015