Four years ago, a New York record company executive who lives with two cats adopted from the North Shore Animal League bought herself a full-length female ranch mink coat.

Shortly after that, she witnessed an antifur protest in front of Fred the Furrier, a Fifth Avenue shop that has since gone out of business, and she began to feel less and less comfortable about wearing her coat on the street.Eventually, fearing verbal assaults, paint splattering, egg hurling or some other form of antifur harassment, she put her fur into storage, where it remained until last December, when she began wearing it again. And two weeks ago, she ordered it out of storage again in preparation for winter.

With determination and misgivings, weighing a desire to stay warm and look good against fear of social pressure, many women are planning to wear fur again. This trend is not a reversal of the one against wearing fur; rather, it's a backlash by fur wearers who have felt intimidated in the last few years.

Some are taking furs out of prolonged storage, and some are buying new or used furs. Others are buying parkas, sweaters and anoraks with fur trim. Most have struggled with the specter of threats and intimidation - real or exaggerated - but have decided that wearing fur is a matter of choice rather than a moral issue.

The record company executive said she overcame her fear of public ridicule after doing volunteer work with terminally sick babies, which made her feel there were far worse things in the world than wearing fur.

"I'm very much a staunch supporter of the First Amendment," she said. "They have a right to their opinion and to protest, and I have a right to my opinion and to wear fur."

Despite her anger at the antifur movement, she is still cautious. Like many women who have made the decision to wear fur, she spoke on the condition she not be identified, concerned that her employers would think less of her for wearing fur.

She will wear her fur to work, she said, but will take it off and fold it inside out before taking the elevator up to her company's offices. "That way, I don't offend them, they don't offend me, and I can enjoy my fur and stay warm," she said.

Some statistics seem to support the anecdotal accounts of women planning to wear fur again.

"Every year there's a carry-over of coats that are brought in for storage that the women do not take out and wear," said Bob Selden of Goldin Feldman, a furrier that offers storage services.

"I'd say this year the percentage is significantly lower than in previous years, which means that more women are taking their coats out for whatever reason - I assume to be worn."

Fur retrieval is also up at Madame Paulette, a dry cleaner that offers fur storage. George Meli-dosian, who handles the furs, said that 280 pieces were retrieved in the last few weeks alone, compared with 200 in all of last year.

Nonetheless, for every woman who's planning to wear fur again, there are plenty of women who are deciding this is the year not to wear fur, in deference to the wishes of friends, employers and children.

Dan Mathews, a chief strategist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an anti-fur group, asserted that fewer people are wearing furs and that those who do in the city are generally foreigners.

But the fur industry, which has faced problems quite apart from the antifur movement, including a prolonged recession and several warm winters before last year's deep freeze, said that sales were up.

Karen Handel, a spokeswoman for the Fur Information Council of America, said that fur sales have risen 20 percent in the last two years, from $1 billion in 1991 to $1.2 billion in 1993. But at the same time, many designers have abandoned fur, including Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, Bill Blass, Ralph Lauren, Isaac Mizrahi and Todd Oldham.

One reason people may be feeling more at ease wearing fur is that it is becoming harder for fur lovers and haters alike to tell the difference between real and fake furs, so advanced is the technology employed by makers of synthetic pelts.

Some designers even combine real and fake pelts in the same coat. Karl Lagerfeld, for one, in his last collection for Fendi, mixed the real and the fake the way his muse, Coco Chanel, once mixed real jewels with paste.

For some, buying used furs has helped relieve them of the dual stigma of ostentation and cruelty; their justification for wearing secondhand furs is that it's a form of recycling, the animals in question having died long before animal rights was recognized as an issue.


Additional Information

Fabulous fakes - fur without guilt

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"Fun fur" used to be the name given to inexpensive pelts like rabbit and curly lamb, but now the real fun furs are fake furs made of synthetic fibers.

The Searle stores have fake raccoon coats in short and long lengths ($300 and $600) that look remarkably like real fur. In the obviously fake category are Henri Bendel's versions of Mongolian lamb in colors like turquoise and cotton-candy pink. There are vests at $128 and seven-eighths-length "chubbies" at $198.

Bendel's also has a fake leopard swing coat at $298; faux fur earmuffs by Jill Stuart at $78 and soft, crushable hats that mimic beaver and leopard at $68. The fake furs at Macy's range from gloves by Morgan Taylor for $22 to a faux leopard peacoat by Moschino Cheap & Chic for $905.

A motorcycle jacket in fake Persian lamb by Versace Jeans is $616. A whimsical bomber jacket ($375) and miniskirt ($215) by Anna Sui are made of alternating bands of pink fake fur and black patent.

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