Miuccia Prada is not known for doing things by halves. So when guests arrived at the designer’s Miu Miu show in Paris to preview this autumn’s collection, one thing was immediately clear: Ms Prada had gone gaga for over-the-top texture. A purple shagpile cloaked the sinuous art-deco staircase at the Palais d’Iéna; it encased columns and crossed the floors, upholstered the chairs and even part of the catwalk. It was all a forerunner of the collection’s key message: embrace the uplifting impact of vibrantly coloured and supremely fluffy “powder-puff” coats.
Backstage after the show, Ms Prada mused on the “madness of glamour” and its power as a mood-enhancer in turbulent times. In the past, glamour was synonymous with fur coats – from the Jazz Age, when flappers wore theirs over silk slips, to the ’80s, the pinnacle of power dressing – but today’s cheerful take offers many alternatives to real fur: playful, voluminous textures in the form of fanciful faux fur, secondary fleecy products like shearling, as well as alpaca, mohair and remarkably soft hybrids, all spun out in sweetshop colours – they could be just the spoonful of sugar we need.
But while luxury labels are now putting a new spin on faux-fur coats, it was a humble startup that popularised them first. When Hannah Weiland made her colourful faux-fur pieces, back in 2013, she was still a textile student at the London College of Fashion. She took some faux fur and made it up into a dazzling coat – never imagining that this would develop into a fully fledged brand. But her Shrimps designs, in candy colours and patterns, quickly became a front-row favourite, worn by Laura Bailey, Alexa Chung, Mary Charteris and Natalie Massenet. “When I started, faux fur wasn’t really on anyone’s radar, and I didn’t wear it because I didn’t like the colours and how it tried too hard to look like an animal with dyed tips,” remembers Weiland. Now though, fast-moving technology has transformed what’s available, with faux furs of all textures – as well as new surface treatments such as jacquarding and printing – emerging, particularly in Asia.
Her autumn collection boasts pieces that are jacquarded, panelled and printed with abstract squiggles inspired by Louise Bourgeois. There’s a soft‑blush faux-shearling Ramsey coat (£525 at Matchesfashion.com and Selfridges) with sleeves edged with faux-Mongolian lamb. She’s also worked with off-white chubby fur – which comes in a belted Marilyn coat (£650 at Dover Street Market) or a gilet (£495) with patches of pearl embroidery. “It’s the thickest faux fur I’ve ever worked with: it’s like being wrapped in a duvet but also unbelievably glamorous,” she says. Then there are the other benefits of faux – it doesn’t moult, and no specialist cleaning is required.
This is a significant shift. Real fur was always the preserve of luxury houses, while faux was considered the cheap, unappealing alternative. Now though, look to Calvin Klein, where Raf Simons has encased a golden faux-fur overcoat (£2,935) in a clear plastic mac, cinched with a chunky crystal rope belt.
In his Marni debut, Francesco Risso tapped into the furry coat’s rock ’n’ roll past, dressing the models at his autumn show – all tousled bed-hair and kohl-rimmed eyes – in glamorous shaggy numbers in sugared-almond shades. Here, a yellow puffy mohair coat (£2,650) was thrown over a sleek wool/silk pencil skirt (£730) and set off with blue patent ankle boots (£800).
No one has done more to transform fake fur into a truly covetable material than Stella McCartney, who has famously built her brand using alternatives to animal products. Two years ago, she also launched Fur-Free Fur, which delivered sumptuous coats in high-tech – but cosy – faux fur. Her pre-fall collection includes a fluffy longline gilet (£1,165), a short coat (£1,260) and a cropped jacket (£1,075) in the same puffy fabric.
Milan-based Marco de Vincenzo is transforming fake fur into luxurious pieces for his ready-to-wear brand, drawing on the atelier skills that he has used during his decade at Fendi (where he continues to work on accessories). His latest collection has incredible faux-fur coats embellished with complex patchwork or graphic patterns, such as the pink, red and black Pink Chimneys coat (price on request), or the blue jacquarded-fur show-opener (£1,740) that depicts a night sky.
For de Vincenzo it’s easier to create complex colours and patterns with fake fur. “I started to use faux furs not only for an ethical reason, which is undoubtedly very important, but also as a stylistic choice,” he says. “I experiment a lot with fabrics, and faux furs allow you to explore patterns and patchwork that would be impossible with other materials – not to mention the comfort they provide. They are warm but also lighter than real furs.”
But for some, only a more natural take will do. On the Miu Miu catwalk, belted shearling coats in juicy hues were paired with contrasting baker-boy hats and flared skirts. One, in cerulean blue (£2,660), was studded with chunky turquoise buttons and cinched with a rhinestone-buckled, clear Perspex belt. Elsewhere, Miu Miu’s punchy palette was ramped up by embellishing lustrous shearlings with intensely coloured prints, including a sumptuous double-breasted coat (£2,480) in emerald, electric blue, black and white check. For a quieter – but far-from whispering – statement, there were coats in softer sorbet shades, including a shaggy style (£1,745) in peppermint.
Over in the main Prada collection, meanwhile, dyed shearlings found their way onto cosy coats (£4,990) with contrasting leather seams and cuffs, and alpaca jackets (£1,675). It’s not the first time the Italian designer has dabbled with colourful, fluffy textures, but her latest rendition – with ’70s wide collars and deep cuffs and ’40s fit-and-flare silhouettes – is more dramatic. Risso’s rock ’n’ roll-inspired collection for Marni also nodded at ’70s glamour, but the coats were styled in a contemporary way: a pale-pink shaggy number (£9,510) gave oomph to a pale-blue high-neck dress (£1,780).
Tomas Maier, who has often tapped into the cosy allure of cuddly toys at Bottega Veneta – he once worked with the faux fur used to make Steiff teddybears – has dreamt up an ochre leather-belted shearling coat (£5,675) with all the shrug-on ease of a dressing gown. MaxMara also has a deliciously cocooning caped coat (£1,630) in soft caramel shearling. And at Matchesfashion.com, the in-house label Raey has followed the trend for transforming soft, brushed shearling into fun, fluffy pieces with a peppy red chubby-fur style (£1,200).
Ida Petersson, womenswear buying director at Browns, saw the first hints of this trend’s potential last year. “Even though only a few brands offered the coats, early adopters were sporting statement fluffy coats well before the current season’s shows began,” she says. Her customers started reserving the new autumn/winter versions from brands including Prada by late spring, with some even opting for the full-on “Cookie Monster” effect. Right now, there’s nothing more Sesame Street out there than Ellery’s sunshine-yellow shearling coat (price on request). One of Petersson’s current favourites, however, is the full-length faux-fur teddy coat (£1,170 at Browns) from Dries Van Noten. “Wearing it feels like carrying around your favourite bear all day long,” she swoons. The label has also produced a short-but-voluminous cuddly faux-fur jacket (£1,075 at Browns and Harvey Nichols) in a vibrant pink, with heaps of ease-off-the-shoulders attitude.
Whichever way you want to wear it, there is so much choice now that these characterful coats can add a new tactile dimension to any wardrobe. But wearing a softly textured piece provides comfort on many levels, says Hannah Weiland – especially as autumn turns to winter, and party season begins. “If I go out to an event, I can sleep on it on the way home,” she says. And, of course, these eye-catching coats have another useful function on an evening out: they’re one heck of a conversation starter.