The nutria is an invasive pest wreaking havoc on Louisiana’s wetlands, but it also makes a great shawl.
Brooklyn designers and artists are teaming up with Louisianans to stage Nutria-palooza!, a Nov. 21 fashion show and wetlands benefit at Bushwick’s House of Yes that will feature the fur of rodents rounded up by bounty hunters.
“It’s going to be a great fashion show — educational and a hoot,” said Cree McCree, who uses the critters’ teeth in her jewelry designs.
McCree’s use of nutria is interesting, but hardly unique. The show will feature two dozen designers, including “Mad Men”-era cocktail wraps, wintery coats, and even a fur-lined wedding dress.
And what’s a fashion show about a pernicious pest without music?
“We’re really drawn to celebrating the life of the animal instead of just discarding it,” said Stephen Franco, whose band PRIMA PRIMO will not only perform, but will wear nutria-gangster outfits.
The gangland imagery is not entirely inappropriate. After all, bounty hunters in Louisiana are paid $5 for every nutria they bag — though the meat and fur are often just discarded.
And that waste inspired the founding of Righteous Fur, which is hosting the fashion show as part of its ongoing mission to find uses for the animal.
“At this point, it’s almost a case of us versus them in southern Louisiana,” said the group’s Brooklyn-based design director, Valerie Massimi.
Nutria, imported from Argentina in the 1930s for their pelts, were released into Louisiana’s marshland and soon became a threat to the natural habitat because they breed year round, reach sexual maturity within months and are extremely prolific. In that way, they’re sort of like hipsters.
But unlike hipsters, you can just kill nutria. And the death of any creature is bound to attract the attention of animal rights groups.
“Using any fur in fashion, no matter how it’s obtained, promotes the idea that it’s glamorous to decorate yourself in the skin of a dead animal,” said Danielle Katz, campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
But McCree was quick to counter by saying that her use of the animals’ teeth harkens back to the Native American practice of using every bit of an animal.
And despite PETA’s stance, efforts to promote a “guilt-free fur” in the fashion world are paying off. Oscar de la Renta featured a nutria vest in his fall/winter collection and designer Billy Reid, who refers to the pelt as “bad-ass fur” used it for collars, hats and an evening cape.
All of which may suggest the once fashionable rodent — worn by icons like Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren — will be staging its comeback at the House of Yes.
Nutria-palooza! at House of Yes (342 Maujer St. between Morgan Avenue and Waterbury Street in Bushwick, no phone), Nov. 21 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20; Righteous Fur will also sell items at the Brooklyn Flea (176 Lafayette Ave. between Clermont and Vanderbilt avenues in Fort Greene), Nov. 20 from 10 am to 5 pm.