The FUTURE of Foie Gras, Fur and Exotic Skins

As states crack down on the sale of their favorite products, customers will have to either give them up or get creative.

At LAX recently, the chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant was detained for trying to bring in some unusual cargo: 40 frozen piranhas. In a duffel bag, no less.

Virgilio Martínez, whose restaurant, Central, in Lima, Peru, is ranked among the world’s best, claimed to be unfamiliar with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection list of restricted species. And who can blame him?

The number of prohibited imports is so vast—from sublime delicacies like poulet de Bresse, widely considered the Rolls-Royce of chicken to the ridiculous, such as Kinder Surprise Eggs—that it is easier to keep up with the drama of your favorite Housewives.

“What’s next?” asks American fashion designer Josie Natori. “You almost need a road map to find out what’s allowed and not allowed. It’s so hard to keep track.”

It’s a state of affairs that is likely to continue being even more of a head-scratcher in 2020 and beyond. While some states, like Illinois, have rolled back laws on, say, recreational marijuana, others are taking the opposite tactic on more extravagant highs. Beginning in 2022, the sale of foie gras will be illegal in New York City; transgressors could face up to $2,000 in fines.

Motivated by concerns over animal cruelty (mostly over the process of gavage, which is how most but not all foie gras is produced), the ban by the city council has chefs—especially those working in upscale French kitchens—up in arms in a way not seen since beluga caviar was banned 15 years ago.

The proposed ban will undeniably affect upstate duck farmers and the thousand or so New York City restaurants that serve foie gras, but the sacré bleu–level indignation (Will they come for veal next? Not my truffles!) is nothing compared to the fits of anger gripping California as the state readies itself for a possible ban on exotic skins.

Having outlawed the sale of all new fur products statewide (beginning in 2023), governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill enforcing a ban on the import or sale of crocodile and alligator skins effective January 2020.


“It’s ridiculous,” says Farah Makras, a San Francisco socialite and fashion plate. “The ways that animals are raised or whether they are treated well is the problem, not customers.”

That is an opinion shared, not surprisingly, by Jason Stalvey, a New York designer of high-end accessories made from alligator hide. He sees exotic skins as collateral damage in fashion’s race to embrace more ethical production practices.

“Unfortunately, taking a stand against exotics actually works against sustainable efforts that have been in place and overseen by the government for the last 40 years,” says Stalvey, whose namesake line counts Beyoncé and Gigi Hadid as fans.

A federal judge appears to agree, having issued a temporary restraining order against the ban after the state of Louisiana sued California, claiming that the regulation could hurt its economy. A hearing will not be held until late April.

Should animal rights activists prevail, it is safe to assume their patrician adversaries everywhere, from Pacific Heights to Pacific Palisades, will find a way to bypass regulators.

“When they originally banned fur in San Francisco, everyone was going to Los Angeles—or even just 10 minutes outside San Francisco,” Makras says. “And we’re so close to Nevada. People will just go to Reno or Vegas. Someone will make millions opening a little fur shop just over the border.”

Imagine the lengths to which we might go to acquire our decadent but outlawed goodies—grandes dames going through customs with Birkins stuffed with tins of beluga! Snakeskin mini bags concealed under wigs! Third or fourth homes in Idaho! Well, as a last resort, we could just bring in everything, from absinthe to Cuban cigars to under-aged raw-milk cheese, on private jets.

And it is not as though repercussions run any deeper than the odd fine. The onus, after all, falls mainly on the retailers. “There is no exotic skin or fur fashion police coming after you,” quipped Emily Holt, a former Vogue editor, and owner of the tony Bay Area boutique, Hero Shop.

The viability of the California skin ban is unresolved, but if the 1990s’ shahtoosh shawl (that gossamer-thin, mylar-warm, status-conferring, handwoven scarf from Kashmir that went from nowhere to everywhere in the late 80s and early 90s) smack down taught socialites anything, it is that they need to be creative if they want to save their skins. Says Makras, “If there is a will, there is a way.”

Adapted for Polo Lifestyles from T&C.


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