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All About Shearling: Autumn’s reinterpretations of sheepskin channel a mix of medieval fantasy, colour-drenched confidence and über-chic elegance, says Avril Groom. When a fashion returns unbidden, it can be fun to analyse the whys and wherefores – where has the inspiration come from and why has it become popular now? But whatever has prompted a new strand of thinking, I find it’s also interesting to observe the trend’s interpretation, which depends on whose eyes it is seen through – something that applies as much to designers and buyers as it does to the wearer.
One of this autumn’s surprises is the mash-up of skins and colours, in which the seminal influences are Karl Lagerfeld’s fake‑fur, glacier-set collection for Chanel in 2010, Miuccia Prada’s recent passion for dyeing shearling, sheepskin and even mink in crazy colours, and that hint of idealised medievalism beloved of Valentino, Alexander McQueen and Rick Owens.
With the resurgence of fur, sheep-derived skins are also an acceptable alternative for those who may eat meat but object to keeping and killing animals solely for use in clothing; new, fancier lambskins coming on to the market, such as Kalgan or Tianjin, are as much a by-product of the food industry as traditional sheepskin is and, like long-haired Tuscan lamb, look and feel as luxurious as fur.
Not that designers just use sheepskin as a substitute for fur – it is prized for its own qualities. A sheepskin coat is, as Kingham points out, “versatile, transeasonal and great if you’re travelling somewhere cold.”