If you can’t eat’em, wear’em!

Lafayette, land of cracklings, boudin, le Courir de Mardi Gras, and haute couture? Mais qu’est-ce que c’est ca?! That’s exactly what I and my two partners in crime – Alisha Renfro and Amanda Moore at National Wildlife Federation (check out their blog site here) – went to investigate this weekend at a fashion show event called Nutriapalooza. Organized by New Orleans fashion maven Cree McCree and sponsored by BTNEP, the clothing designs – all by Louisiana designers – used nutria fur. That’s right, nutria!

Photos of pieces by Thalia (Thomasine Bartlett is her real name) and Jessica Radcliffe (the stole) are by Jonathan Traviesa.

We tried eradicating that notorious marsh eating invasive rodent from South America the best way Louisianans know how, by eating them. Alas, even K-Paul’s magic seasoning blends couldn’t mask the stigma of eating swamp rat. Restaurants participating in a CWPPRA demonstration project attempting to cultivate Louisiana palettes for a semi-aquatic rodent eating away at the coast largely failed. Not a single nutria recipe turns up on K-Paul’s website at present.

Nutria began entering Louisiana marshes in the 1930’s. An import from Argentina, they were meant to supplement resources for a booming fur market. And supplement they did. Nutria reach sexual maturity at six months and may bear two to three litters of five young each in a year. Declining economies in fur wearing nations, a warmer climate, and anti-fur campaigns by activists have been cited as reasons for the decline of the fur demand. As remedy to the nutria problem the state has now turned to the development of a fashion market for nutria fur, the very reason for their arrival in Louisiana marshes less than one hundred years ago.

Turning the animal activist argument on its head, the campaign to create demand for nutria fur garments and accessories has been titled Righteous Fur. Although it is difficult to get an exact number for the total number of acres destroyed and impacted coastwide, in 2011 the observed area of marsh damaged or destroyed by nutria totaled 2.62 square miles or 16% of current average land loss rates since 1985 as calculated by the USGS. That’s the percentage if you only take what has been accounted for at a limited number of sites. The percentage is much higher when you extrapolate from these sites to the rest of the coast. With a state nutria control program enacted paying hunters $5.00 a tail, the number of nutria damaged acres is decreasing but will only stop once this invasive species is stopped. With limited competition and only one predator in the wild, unchecked nutria populations have the potential to skyrocket.

Back to the Show

Photo of nutria hat designed by Julie Ebel modeled by author and her dog Dignity is by Mandy Moore at NWF.
Photo of nutria hat designed by Julie Ebel modeled by author and her dog Dignity is by Mandy Moore at NWF.

A pet friendly event, I brought my dog as my date and treated her with nutria “cookies.” As my human counterparts noshed on nutria meatballs, we ogled sophisticated looking nutria trimmed camisoles, headbands, hats, necklaces, earrings, purses, and even Christmas ornaments for sale. We loaded up on finery for ourselves and “Righteous” Christmas gifts for our loved ones, then took our places for the oncoming spectacle.

Designers included Cree McCree, Veronica Russell, Jose Luis Rodriguez, LaceyDU, Jessica Radcliffe, Thalia, and Howlpop just to name a few. Much of the clothing had an antique or vintage feel to it. Designers like Lauren Greene Whyte had a distinctly more modern look. All were wearable. Like traditional fashion shows, this one also ended with a bride and a groom. Nutria lined silken layers of cream and café au lait flowed into a train behind the bride while the groom wore a more traditional tux only with a fur cummerbund and a fur bow tie! At the silent auction that followed, I scored a Howlpop dress that came complete with a matching purse and head piece.

Photos of pieces by Thalia (Thomasine Bartlett is her real name) and Jessica Radcliffe (the stole) are by Jonathan Traviesa.

Photos of pieces by Thalia (Thomasine Bartlett is her real name) and Jessica Radcliffe (the stole) are by Jonathan Traviesa.

Currently, the only merchandise I can find available online is jewelry by LaceyDU, but the Nutriapalooza website promises an online store ready for the Christmas shopping season in 2011. Sign up at the link provided to be notified of its opening.

Previous shows have taken place in New Orleans and Brooklyn. Nutria-palooza shows will continue to travel the nation showcasing the beauty and utility of these pest’s pelts. Again, check back with the Righteous Fur website to stay up to date.

And if you’re as fired up as I am about these critters, don’t miss the First Annual Nutria Rodeo on December 3rd, 2011 as well as the Louisiana Fur and Wildlife festival in Cameron January 13th and 14th.

Official website of the event:
http://lafurandwildlifefestival.com/schedule.htm

Nutria Rodeo
http://www.sassafrasla.org/Our_Initiative.html

Written By: Morgan Crutcher- Technical and Policy Assistant

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