Although it is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, flattered is not what Oleg Cassini, the Kennedy administration’s ‘Secretary of Style,’ felt when indulging the First Lady with a leopard coat and subsequently 250,000 leopards were killed as the market flooded with demand for copy-cat-coats to be worn by countless Jackie-ites who wanted to capture her style. “After that, I decided to never use [real] furs in my designs again,” says Cassini, a now resolute animal activist after this life-changing experience. He says, “there’s no logic in real fur; it was for a different time, when people didn’t have choices. Now its just a luxury habit.”
Instead, Cassini has worked with a new type of fur, what he calls an ‘evolutionary fur’; a synthetic and cruelty-free substitute for furs of old. Cassini says that he judges the evolutionary fur “by the look, the feel and the warmth, [and] in all of these capacities, its just like ordinary fur, . . but,” he continues emphatically, “the animals know the difference.”
Evolutionary fur was recently launched in Wash-ington DC, with a show co-hosted by the Humane Society, and a list of ‘who’s who’ attendees–sympathizers to the cause and potential trend-setters for this fur-alternative.
Oleg Cassini “divides people into two categories: those who like animals and those who don’t care about them.” He is certainly in the first camp. His Long Island estate is home to more than 100 animals, including dogs, cats, miniature horses, potbellied pigs, a donkey, sheep, ducks, chickens, and horses. Always an avid rider, Cassini was an instructor in horsemanship in the US Army’s Cavalry division, and continued his equestrian passion by taking up harness racing at age 74. He says, “by the time I was 80, I was beating people generally a third of my age.”Cassini, now 88, says “I feels more like I’m 44, twice.” A case can certainly be made for that.
Of all of Cassini’s animals, two of the puppies, Max, a shitzu adopted at a FIDO benefit, and Rambo, a miniature poodle, get to travel back and forth with him between his New York City Gramercy Park home and his Long Island country estate. Cassini laughs, “I never thought of myself as a poodle-man,” but says he was so compelled by the miniature dog’s terrible state; he had to help and take her in-giving her the name of a fighter, perhaps to add a little more brawn to the fragile breed.
The aristocratic fashion mogul who was engaged at one time to Grace Kelly and wed to actress Gene Tierney, who was the image-maker for Jackie Kennedy during the White House years, and who now works diligently to change people’s life-thinking on animal kind, always remembers the coat that changed the course of his life.
The adage that awakened him to his cruelty-free beliefs on fur rings true again. Only this time, Cassini flatters the minks, leopards, and sables by imitating their furs, without stealing them off their backs.