This season, Natalie Graham, owner of Mount Vernon's Dollhouse Boutique, used fur as an accent in her designs. And she says she can't keep those pieces in stock as a result.

Almost every top designer this season has incorporated the pelts and skins that were once viewed as elitist and taboo. Experts attribute fur's recent popularity to a push by younger designers to use it more, greater use of fur in casual wear and expanded offerings of furs in bold colors and accessories.

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"I can't keep anything with fur in the store," Graham said. "[Women] love it."

Nearly 500 designers presented fur in their collections for fall 2015, according to the Fur Information Council of America. The trade organization reported that fur appeared in 73 percent of the fall 2015 and winter 2016 runway collections presented in New York, London, Milan and Paris. And sales by traditional retail fur stores in the U.S. were $1.5 billion in 2014, a 7.3 percent increase over 2013.

The ethical concerns over fur haven't gone away: Last year, animal-rights advocates demonstrated against Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Lady Gaga over its use. Fur wearers on Instagram are often greeted with criticism. The Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals both have policies opposing its use.

But nothing has stopped the trend from roaring back.

"Girls feel fabulous in fur," Graham said.

Graham, who also has a line of clothing, Ragdolls Couture, has always used fur in her designs — especially as part of her fall and winter collections.

"I've seen it being used as a touch or accent," said Graham, who offers custom denim or military-style jackets with fur sleeves, sweaters with mink shoulder embellishments and bomber jackets with fur trim. "Dsquared2 and Balmain have been putting a lot of fur on their jackets, which is where I've been pulling a lot of my inspiration."

Richard Swartz, owner of Green Spring Station-based Mano Swartz, a 127-year-old furrier, believes the momentum is due in part to a changing attitude among designers to work with fur.

"It's been a push up from the younger designers like Prabal Gurung, who said, 'I'm going to use fur but not in a precious way,'' he said. "Now the floodgates have opened. There are fur key chains and fur earmuffs — it's everywhere."

The push among younger designers is a result of a number of them — including Emily Burnett, the creative director of Dennis Basso, and Brandon Sun, the former design director of furs at Oscar de la Renta — training at the Saga Furs Design Centre in Copenhagen, according to Swartz.

"The Saga Design Centre invited designers to train in new fur techniques. You had people who were not furriers learning about fur," Swartz said. "Now fur has finally moved from a separate category into a fashion category. Society accepts fashion — embraces fashion."

The newer fur offerings come in nontraditional, bold colors with sleeker shapes, according to fashion experts.

Pascale Lemaire, a wardrobe stylist based in the Washington area, has noticed the difference.

"The fur before made you look like the Michelin Man. They swallowed you up. Now they are more streamlined. They are flattering," Lemaire said.

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Lemaire has been struck by how casual and accessible fur has become.

"Designers like Oscar de la Renta have trickled down to bridge lines like Vince and Alice + Olivia," she said. "It's still luxury but treated in a more casual way."

Lemaire noted that designers are mixing different types of fur together — previously a fashion faux pas.

"It's redone in a contemporary way that makes it more 2016," she said, adding that furs are being mixed with other fabrics and used as accents to garments. "It's about the shape that makes it old-school or more contemporary."

Contemporary fur offers are also shaped by environmental concerns and worries over cruelty to animals.

Ethical objections and videos depicting deaths of fur-bearing animals have prompted some shoppers and retailers to turn away from furs and other animal skins.

"Oddball, niche designers may cling to their rather desperate fur fetish, but mainstream retailers and designers ... abandoned fur long ago," Lisa Lange, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said in a statement.

There have been significant advances in faux fur — especially with brands like H&M and Forever 21, whose lower prices make it impossible to carry real fur.

"People want to buy what's popular," said Swartz, who added that he won't sell faux fur or any petroleum-based products because they are not biodegradable.

And there are a number of designers who make an effort to work with vintage fur pieces, which they feel is an eco-friendly approach.

Graham said she spends considerable time finding vintage furs while thrift shopping and visiting consignment shops.

And Swartz said that a sizable portion of his business is a result of people repurposing their older furs into contemporary pieces such as vests, hats and accented outerwear.

Whatever the reason behind the production, Lemaire likes the finished product — not only because of the fashion but the functionality.

"There's nothing to keep you warmer than real fur," she said.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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