Decades before gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, fortune-seekers flocked to California for its furs. Now the state is poised to become the first in the country to ban them — a legislative drama in which sunny Los Angeles is the unlikely star.
The assemblywoman who wrote the fur products prohibition and the state senator who could kill the measure represent overlapping districts in Glendale and Burbank. The animal rights organization that helped craft the ban is headquartered in Sherman Oaks, the fur industry’s national lobby across the San Fernando Valley in Porter Ranch. Los Angeles recently became the largest American city to outlaw the sale, manufacture or trade of most fur products, but that hasn’t stopped Angelenos from flocking to buy them.
From rabbit-trimmed festival wear to fox slides and mink eyelash extensions, fur remains stubbornly popular in a place where it has never been practical — defying oft-repeated tropes of Los Angeles as an animal-rights paradise flowing with vegan doughnuts and cruelty-free mascara.
“There’s going to be a black market, that I can tell you,” said Beverly Hills furrier David Appel, who has watched Assembly Bill 44 move through the Legislature with growing apprehension since it was introduced in December. “People that want fur get fur, just like people who want [illegal substances] get [it] .”
Under AB 44, vintage pelts of the type Hammond sells would remain legal, as would hides from cows, goats, sheep and lambs. But new items made from the fur of undomesticated animals — among them coyote, mink and rabbit — would be outlawed.
“If you really want to get (new) fur that bad, go to Vegas,” said Marc Ching, founder and president of Animal Hope in Legislation, the animal rights group behind AB 44 and the Los Angeles ban. “We’re residents and we know a lot of people here who are against fur.”
The state bill passed the Assembly on a bipartisan vote and is currently being weighed by the Senate appropriations committee, where it will remain until Thursday. State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who chairs the committee and will determine whether AB 44 can move forward, declined through a spokesman to comment on the bill.
But while legislators in Sacramento have largely united around the ban, it has exposed deep rifts in L.A. Though many here see fur as an avatar of cruelty, to others it remains a powerful totem of cultural heritage, historical continuity and Hollywood glamour — one many are reluctant to let go.
“My parents being from Iran, there is this infatuation with royalty and gold and fur and jewels that still continues to this day in the diaspora,” said Donna Ahdoot.
Critics of the law say it singles out some ethnic and religious groups while shielding others. Religious articles worn by Native Americans and Ashkenazi Jews are exempted, they point out, while fox stoles popular at black churches and Persian synagogues are not.
“What makes their religion more important?” said Irene Gandy, a Broadway press agent who heads the Coalition for Blacks for Furs in New York, where proposed fur bans have drawn widespread ire. “We’re still praying. We have as much right to wear our furs for our faith.”
“Some members of the African American community feel there is a racial component to this ban that (legislators) need to be aware of,” said Gandy.
But Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, slammed the idea that culture excused animal cruelty at a hearing on AB 44 earlier this year.
“To suggest that there’s a cultural connection to this issue trivializes the point,” Holden said. “It focuses on a divisive issue.”
State legislators in New York and Hawaii have already introduced similar bans, with more states expected to follow, said P.J. Smith, fashion policy director at the Humane Society of the United States. “California has a good chance to be a leader on this issue and pave the way for other states,” he said.