Leather or Not

Shopping With the Vegetarian Fashionista

Judging by the rest of his outfit—Comme des Garçons patchwork sweater, APC khakis, beaded Masai necklace and rings—you'd think the Vegetarian Fashionista was like any other slightly raffish Lower Manhattan trendsetter. It's only his shoes that tell the tale: flat orange plastic things from Camper that look like a cross between clogs and bedroom slippers. As it turns out, the VF not only doesn't eat cows, he doesn't wear them either.

"The shoes are the hardest. Making shoes without leather is sort of like making cookies without sugar," explains the VF, who works as an editor at a downtown fashion magazine and has agreed to take us on a tour of his favorite stores in search of footwear, belts, and bags that both he and his conscience are willing to wear. "It's a good thing I always liked plastic shoes, if only for the novelty look of them. If you have a sneaker and a dress shoe alternative, that's all you really need." How come he's so rigorous? After all, plenty of vegetarians wear leather, and he is a fashion person. "I've been a vegetarian for a long time—it just seemed like a natural progression. And as far as being a fashion person goes, it's almost more important than for a regular person. You know, I can understand that fur is cute, even though I don't think you should kill animals for it. I still have some leather-trimmed things that I certainly am not going to throw away: I mean, they're Louis Vuitton and Fendi!" He used to buy things if they had just a little bit of leather on them, but not anymore. "For some reason I'm an extremist now. You either do it or you don't."

Though firm in his convictions, the VF is hardly a zealot: "I worship going to the Townhouse and seeing old gay guys in their fox jackets and matching toupees. My enjoyment is not reduced by the fact that I don't wear leather or fur." What would he buy if he were willing to throw principle to the wind? "Those Hermès leather sneakers are so cute," he says wistfully. "Oh, and I worship Bottega Veneta—when I was a little kid I was desperate for one of their woven hobo bags. You know, some of the best, most interesting work in fashion is done with leather."

illustration: Yuko Shimuzu

The VF suggests we inaugurate our shopping trip with a visit to Moo Shoes at 207 East 26th Street, where the merchandise is guaranteed 100 percent leather free. "When I first saw this place I thought, Wow, fabulous. You know, when you're a vegetarian you have to put aside all ideas about what cute shoes are." Nevertheless, the VF is excited about Moo's kelly green, yellow-trimmed Ben Sherman sneakers: "They're young and skatery-looking—I'd wear them." Moo also has basic black make-believe Doc Martens and Blundstones, but nothing at the moment in lavender or marigold. This does not, fortunately, present an immediate problem for the VF, whose current shoe repertoire includes hot pink plastic rain shoes from the Chanel outlet in Woodbury Common and a pair of little girl plaid boots. Plastic boots in the summer? "Summer is hard," the VF admits. "Your foot feels like a baked potato."

Moo Shoes takes care of the vegetarian part of the equation, but what about the fashionista? For that we taxi up to Fendi, though the VF admits it may be tough finding anything. And in fact, it proves impossible to locate a single satchel, suitcase, or tote that has not been contaminated by at least a tiny bit of skin. On the other hand, there's a leatherless double F umbrella, and a double F watch with a metal strap, and maybe even a double F belt. "The belt works! No, the back is leather. Fuck." The VF's sunshiny visage clouds over for a moment. "Why'd they have to put fuckin' leather on the back?" Downstairs, peace is restored when fully three different pairs of fabric-and-rubber double F sneakers present themselves. "Oh, we got a winner! But they're $360. I got Fendi sneaks on QVC for, like, $99. They were ladies', though, so they don't really fit as well as they might."

Across the street at Louis Vuitton, there's no sign of the all-plastic flip-flops the VF spotted in Paris last year. The only thing that receives even faint admiration is an LV printed tie, but then again, the VF says he would never wear a tie. Slightly disappointed, we decide to visit Le Sportsac at 80th and Madison, which the VF likens to eating at an all-vegetarian restaurant: "Whatever you see you can have." Though this isn't strictly speaking true—there's a locked showcase of fur Sportsacs—for the most part the merch consists of bright happy nylon bags with nary a wisp of hide in sight. "When I was in high school in Chicago all the really cool girls had Le Sacs from Water Tower Mall on Michigan Avenue. That and Gucci are the two big status symbols of my childhood," the VF reminisces, leafing through a catalog of custom-order Sportsacs. He's considering a leopard print travel tote that's $107 and can be ordered with, say, hot pink trim and a VF monogram. "I love animal prints because I love animals. Zebra and leopard are the new houndstooth and herringbone."

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