On Jan. 23, Schiaparelli kicked off Paris Couture Fashion Week with arguably the designer brand’s most controversial show yet. Models strutted down the runway wearing dresses with hyper-realistic lion, wolf, and snow leopard heads made entirely without animal products, substituting them with humane alternatives like foam, faux fur, and resin. Kylie Jenner was photographed in one of these pieces, wearing a black dress adorned with a lion’s head on the shoulder. Schiaparelli posted these videos to their Instagram with the caption, “NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN MAKING THIS LOOK.” Many think that people are upset about and disturbed by these looks out of fear that they’re made with real fur and animal products. However, supporters of this collection don’t realize that this isn’t what’s causing such an uproar about these pieces.
Environmentalists and animal rights advocates aren’t angry because they’re worried about real animals being used in these looks. Rather, they’re understandably concerned about how this could promote animal objectification and potentially encourage people to want to use real animal heads in similar ways. As what normally happens during Fashion Week or with fashion in general, looks go viral and people want to replicate them. When designers depict animal heads as haute couture or high fashion, what’s to prevent people from replicating these looks with real animal heads? This is especially a cause for concern as poaching and trophy hunting still remain very prevalent and serious problems.
Lion heads and paws continue to be highly prized among poachers, and this line does nothing but further support this practice. Poaching is a prominent reason for why we’ve seen lion populations decrease by 43 percent over the past 21 years. Snow leopards are also commonly sought for their soft, spotted fur. According to Traffic, a UK organization that monitors the wildlife trade around the world, up to 450 snow leopards are poached every year, but the estimate could be greater as some poaching goes unnoticed. It’s irresponsible to display animal heads in this way, real or not, while endangered species continue to be exploited and unnecessarily killed for fashion and money. While using the heads of any animal as a fashion statement is irresponsible and objectifying, it’s even more alarming that these pieces featured a lion and snow leopard; both species are experiencing dramatic population declines. Many wolf species are also experiencing similar declines.
For some reason, we constantly use animals in fashion, whether that’s through fur coats, snakeskin boots, bags, or even leather. It seems as though we have a blatant lack of respect for animals, as we continue to perceive them as resources to be used and manipulated in whatever way we want. We see them as objects instead of living, sentient beings. While Schiaparelli’s animal heads aren’t real, it still promotes the view that we’re superior to animals, as their likeness is being used as a fashion statement.
It’s undeniable that the attention to detail and realism of the animal heads are unbelievable. The skill level needed to make these pieces is admirable which is why the collection is, understandably, receiving so much praise. You can’t argue that the artistry isn’t impressive; however, to ignore the potential consequences of this collection would be ignorant.
The goal of fashion has always been to push boundaries and cause controversy and conversation, but it seems as though the collection has taken this to another level. We need to value animals and prioritize their safety over the controversy.