And PETA basically invented the whole game. In 1991, as the war on fur was gaining steam, three PETA activists stripped down and jumped on the catwalk at Oscar De La Renta. The naked demonstration garnered global headlines—and PETA quickly became the bane of the industry. If a brand used fur, which practically all of them did, they probably had a PETA run-in during the aughts, when activists regularly unfurled “Fur Kills” signs in front of photographers at shows like Valentino, Versace, and Jean Paul Gaultier.
With the dawn of the social media age, as well as the increased presence of VIPs and celebrities, brands have gone to great lengths to lock down their events. As I wrote in June, show invites have become almost comically sophisticated. Major European houses typically employ multiple security checks, and many, like Prada, have implemented strict ID requirements at the door.
Among the fashion press corps, intimately familiar with the occasionally rough security at these events, PETA’s successes have been received with a sort of begrudging respect. “What do they know that the Italian teenagers outside can’t figure out?” asked one writer at Gucci. The theories I’ve heard range from simple to somewhat outlandish. Did the Coach protestors tailgate in with a celebrity’s entourage? Or did they hide in the backstage bathroom for an entire day, as an editor claimed?
According to Byrne, PETA has a high success rate when they target specific events. “When we decide to do something or get in someplace, it tends to happen,” she said. Byrne explained that the group “brought back in force” runway crashes this season to ramp up pressure on brands known for their leather goods and/or angora wool, which Byrne described as the group’s next targets now that fur is a dirty word. (Most major brands have phased out fur products in the past decade. Gucci disavowed fur in 2017, with Coach and Burberry following in 2018.)
Though the industry’s post-fur era is arguably more due to changing consumer tastes than activist pressure, Byrne told me PETA is replicating their previous campaigns. “Now most people associate fur with this very violent, controversial industry,” said Byrne. “There’s absolutely a stigma about using fur. They don’t have that association right now with these other products. So we know it is going to take something that is a little more bold and hard to miss to bring these other things to their attention.” Byrne noted that PETA’s impromptu models risk arrest every time they sneak in, though generally they’re just thrown out of the venue.
As with all PETA protests, reactions have been mixed, though some showgoers have mentioned that they prefer “Ban Exotic Skins” signs to naked people and fake blood, two characteristics of sidewalk demonstrations PETA has brought to fashion weeks in years past. Meanwhile, Paris is bracing for more crashers. As Paris Fashion Week got underway on Monday, a publicist told me that it was all but impossible to stop them. “There are 200-300 people who work at these events,” he told me, with a knowing glance. “Between lighting, sound, catering, beauty, you have people who are sympathetic to the cause.” As I suspected, the crashers generally seem to have inside help. According to a source at a marquee French luxury brand, several houses have dropped freelance production staff for just that reason.
I asked Byrne if she could at least give me a hint of PETA’s plans this week. “I think it’s safe to say that PETA will have a presence at Paris Fashion Week,” she said. “The form that it will take remains to be seen, but it’s guaranteed that they will be there.”
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