Everybody eventually makes a comeback in this life. Even Richard Nixon. Even Eliot Spitzer. Even the Big Bad Wolf. Canis lupus (along with the panther at Givenchy) is this season's poster predator. Mulberry kicked off the lupine trend with its wolf-print bikini in its pre-fall collection. This was followed by Giles Deacon’s wolf sweaters at Ungaro and Proenza Schouler’s wolf T-shirts. For jewellery designer Ugo Cacciatori (who honed his Gothic sensibilities at Valentino and Ungaro), wolves, enshrined in rings and pendants, are a mainstay of his collections.
And when animal-rights activist Stella McCartney celebrated the grey wolf on her T-shirts, she may have gotten the idea from its controversial removal, last April, from the endangered-species list. Wolves in the Great Lakes region, Northern Rockies and British Columbia are now considered to be in sufficient enough numbers to be hunted and must fend for themselves like any old cougar or grizzly. Yes, my dear, our friend the wolf is back.
After their near decimation in the 1930s in North America and Europe, wolves are clawing their way back to viability. They were reintroduced into Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and now number 1,700. France and Germany, where wolf-hunting is prohibited, both have about 200 wolves each—more than either country has had in two centuries. In Eastern Europe and Russia, wolves have multiplied spectacularly. Last February, various news organizations, including the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, reported that a small town in Siberia was under siege by a super-pack of 400 wolves. The situation was so dire that the townspeople organized themselves into 24 patrols and shot wolves from helicopters.
Not surprisingly, the hue and cry over reinstating wolf hunts in the United States has been immediate, pitting the blood-thirsty anti-wolf contingent against bleeding-heart conservationists. Sheep farmers, meanwhile, are licking their wounds over ever more frequent attacks on their herds. This year in France, there have been 66 attacks carried out by wolves, with one lone wolf responsible for the deaths of more than 70 sheep. In an ABC News segment earlier this year, an Idahoan ranching family reported that they had lost over 800 sheep in three years.
But the clash over what to do about wolves is not just about numbers or economics; it’s about emotion. With their return, wolves revive the ancient fears expressed in fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats. Wilhelm Grimm, one of the Brothers Grimm, described the wolf as the most evil animal of all. The Norse passed down the legend of the wolf god who would one day end the world. And don’t forget that Adolf Hitler nicknamed himself “Herr Wolf.”
Learn more about wolves and their relation to the fashion world on the next page...But for every wolf-hater—and they are legion—there are wolf-lovers aplenty, and their emotions run just as high. To conservation groups, like Germany’s Society for the Protection of Wolves, the wolf is, if not a friend, at least not man’s enemy. In North America, wolves have tended to avoid humans. There have been only two fatal wolf attacks on people in the last six years, and as a result, wolves are perceived as powerful but benign. The renaissant wolf is also an ecological victory—a sign, perhaps, of the reversal of the ills that humankind has wreaked on nature and the triumphant return of the wild.
Dr. Valerius Geist, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Calgary, believes that this thinking is dangerously naive. “Most people don’t look at the history, and so the myth arose that wolves are harmless,” he says. “I like wolves too. I’ve observed them and they’re lovely creatures. But you have to manage them in such a fashion that they’re not dangerous.” Geist argues that the issue is not so much the number of deadly wolf attacks on humans, which is insignificant, as that wolves are coming into closer proximity with humans and watching and learning our moves. As wolves share territory with an ever-expanding human population, the human-wolf relationship can only grow more intense. The tacit injustice in this is that wildlife must fear humans in order to coexist with us, but nobody knows if wolves will comply. Geist writes: “It cannot be emphasized enough that habituation is but a stepping stone toward fully exploring humans as prey.”
Fashion has always had a taste for the dark side, and there’s no edgier beast in the wild kingdom than the wolf. Wolves are smart, strong, noble and scary—making a wolf exactly the talisman you want on your person. They also remind us that no matter how civilized we seem, the wild ones are always out there, waiting. As founder/designer Angie Roussin of the Canadian T-shirt company Piña puts it: “Wolves are at the top of the food chain, so if you feel connected to any animal, you want it to be a wolf! This is an animal that is powerful enough to kill you yet has the strength to protect you; since it remains so mysterious, we use our imagination when thinking about it. You don’t see them often, but you know they’re around.”
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