From High Jungle to Haute Couture, the Monkey Fur Trend Then and Now

"You know Jessica Lange wore a monkey coat in American Horror Story right?" 

"Wait, what?"

"Monkey. And that's a monkey coat right there." 

   This was the exchange I had with a vintage dealer back in 2014 while I was at his shop perusing his treasures. He had Dior, Comme des Garçons, Junya, and this coat made of long black hair that eerily reminded me of my own. 

                                                         Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story: Freakshow, 2014

"It's from the 1930's-  Gold Coast monkey." 

"Is it for sale?"

"No. It's too rare. I'm keeping it for the shop."

  Rare indeed. The capelet I'd been handling was from the 1930's, it was made out of Colubus monkey fur. Colubi (the plural form) are Old World monkeys native to Equatorial Guinea, south west Cameroon, and central and north-western Gabon. Their fur is quite long, over five inches, shiny and slightly coarse, its use for clothing was popular from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid 1940's.  

    Elsa Schiaparelli, famed surrealist designer, was known for her use of monkey fur in her designs from the 30's and late 40's. So much that in 2014 the house's creative director, Marco Zanini, carried out his own rendition of monkey fur for the  Schiaparelli Fall 2014 couture collection  using glycerin-treated ostrich feathers instead. 

 

Elsa Schiaparelli, date & photographer unknown

 

Elsa Schiaparelli gloves and boots, Spring Summer 1938

(10/10 would still wear those shoes)

   It was from Schiaparelli's haute couture shows that monkey fur diffused into the ready-to-wear collections of North American and European designers. So distinguished and popular was monkey fur during the early 40's that even fledgeling actress, known still as Norma Jeane Baker, wrote about wanting a Gold Coast monkey coat in 1944. Baker would wear her own Colubus coat in 1948 to the premier of the film The Emperor Waltz, only this time she called herself Marilyn Monroe. 

                                                                          Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Rooney, May 26, 1948

   It was around the 40's that the Colubus monkey population dropped drastically in the wild (due to over hunting). It was also around this time that the trade and sale of monkey fur became more strict and in some countries its possession was later completely banned (as we saw in 2006 Celebrity Big Brother when Pete Burns, a contestant on the show, had his monkey coat confiscated by the authorities). 

                                                                                           Bitch, don't touch my coat

    Monkey fur has definitely enjoyed its popularity with several notable figures throughout history: icons from the 60's and 70's Mick and Bianca Jagger, and Loulou de la Falaise wore the monkey tresses. Supermodel-muse Kate moss wore the fur in 2006 and brooding designer Michele Lamy sported monkey in 2013. 

 

   I was pretty excited when I came across another monkey coat about 2 weeks ago. I do have to admit I found it a bit bizarre but after doing the research (and yes it's legal to buy in the United States) I found the piece's history fascinating. The Colubus monkey coat currently up for sale on Pechuga Vintage has a Bencha label and it coincides with the name that Marilyn Monroe alluded to in 1944, which leads me to believe that the coat is from this time period.

   This specific piece is in excellent condition, best fitting a size M women's, size S in men's. If you wish to see more pictures please click here. I hope you all learned as much as I did! If you have any questions please feel free to send me an e-mail or leave a comment below! 

 

Thanks for reading and until next time!

 

Johnny Valencia

Owner

 

 



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