Rabbits and vintage fabrics find a new life in coats

Dunedin designer Jane Avery and the bespoke coats in her lower Stuart St studio. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Dunedin designer Jane Avery and the bespoke coats in her lower Stuart St studio. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Fur or faux?

Ethical questions surrounding the wearing of animal fur juxtapose with the environmental damage caused by synthetic ''fur''.

As Dunedin fashion designer Jane Avery explains, the issue has become ''one of the more discussed dilemmas'' of the fashion world.

Ms Avery uses wild rabbit fur in her bespoke coat and accessory label Lapin and sees the use of pest fur as a responsible clothing choice.

By sourcing them from rabbiters in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Country, she was making use of an animal recognised as a notorious pest.

Lapin recently moved to a renovated studio and gallery space in lower Stuart St which also displays the work of local fashion brands Mu and Darlene Gore.

The fledgling label debuted on the runway at iD Fashion Week in 2017, held a solo show at last year's iD and showed last year as part of an iD group effort at New Zealand Fashion Week.

At this year's iD Fashion Week, Ms Avery and furrier Max Wilson of Mooneys Furs will hold a demonstration of their respective crafts and discussion on creating garments using pest fur on March 16 in her studio.

Fashion and sewing has long been an interest for Ms Avery, who moved from Auckland to Dunedin with her husband Jeff at the end of 2011.

A journalist and television producer, who had also done some event producing, she had always wanted to start her own fashion business.

But it was about finding the right concept; something that had a point of difference and a ''story''.

A lot of serendipitous things happened which led to the concept of combining rabbit fur with high quality fabrics in original, classic designs.

She had always seen rabbits as a resource and the self-described fabric-oholic also adored beautiful fabric from around the world.

Ms Avery was author, chef and broadcaster Peta Mathias' producer and business partner for 10 years.

While filming for Ms Mathias in India in 2014, she saw the fabric that was available and returned the following year on a buying mission.

It was a whirlwind eight days, spent in vintage fabric warehouses and taxis, and she sent 37kg home from Jaipur, including vintage saris. She was captivated by the colours of vintage fabrics, particularly Indian silks.

She had already ''got out of the starting blocks'' with her own ''stash'' - ''all fabric-oholics have a stash'' - and had the concept, so she had taken several rabbit furs with her to India.

Her primary focus was coats although she also made the likes of cushions, using the ends of saris.

They were special pieces - she did not want to have a fashion business and have to compromise the quality of fashion - and there was ''absolute satisfaction'' in what she was doing.

She was still learning her craft and developing her range, which she described as an example of slow fashion.

''It's not the sort of thing you pump out a 20-piece range twice a year.''

It could take more than 50 hours to make some Lapin creations, with the tailoring, handwork and attention to detailed required and she hoped the coats would become heirlooms handed between generations.

''What results is high-end garments reflecting textile quality, and the fur's journey from high country to sewing table.

''I adore the concept of well-preserved pre-loved fabrics having new lives and continuing their usefulness with a material as sustainable and environmentally sound as New Zealand wild rabbit eco-fur.''

Not every rabbit fur could be used and there was quite a small window every year, usually from about June to the end of October, to source the furs, when rabbits had their winter coats. They also needed to be head shot.

Ms Avery's intention had always been to take Lapin overseas and she has had several approaches from international fashion weeks and emerging designer businesses. While that was very flattering, it was about finding tangible opportunities, she said.

With the right backing, research and support, she believed pest fur could be a New Zealand industry that could be taken to the world.

Rabbit fur was very popular in countries like Spain, where rabbit meat was very popular, and there was a proper rabbit fur industry.

''My aim right now is to cement what I'm doing here in New Zealand and hopefully get some international traction,'' she said.

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