What’s trendy this holiday season? Invasive species. On Sunday in New York City, New Orleanians gathered to show off one of their worst—and now, most fashionable—at an event called Nutria Palooza, part of designer Cree McCree’s Righteous Fur campaign. She won a grant from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to bring the fur of this semi-aquatic rodent back into vogue, and all the way to Brooklyn.
Nutria are native to South America. Introduced to Louisiana in the 30s to bolster its fur trade, they’ve become a force that, like a small hurricane, is eating away at the state’s already vanishing coast. While Louisiana’s native counterpart, muskrats, prefer the tips of plants, nutria are larger basal-stem lovers that dig up and kill their forage. As a result, “eat-outs”—patches of open water caused by the rodents—can be seen from the air, amounting to over 8,000 acres of habitat damage in the Barataria-Terrebonne Basin (or even land loss, if the tides wash rootless sediment away). An estimated 20 million nutria swim rampant in this 4.2 million acre estuary between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.
A decade ago, Louisiana spent $2 million trying to convince its citizens that this swamp rat was delectable, but, however nutritious, its meat hasn’t caught on. Now the state’s Nutria Control Program offers a $5 bounty for every tail, and this year proved the program’s most successful: Over 400,000 nutria were culled. But most of those carcasses simply sank, unused, into the brackish. So if you’re going to sport fur, why not consider nutria an option?
Models in various degrees of fur milled about Nutria Palooza, held at the artist’s venue House of Yes. Some outfits were only lightly trimmed, others quite hairy. Steve Garofano, an NYC musician formerly of NOLA, described his costume for me: “It’s a weird dialectic. I’ve got an animal pelt above the waist, and a fishing net”—not fishnet, but a literal fishing net—“below.” His nutria coat was accented by an alligator gar scale pendant, which he rightly judged as “straight up primordial.” His net/skirt looked airy, but his fur top and white shrimp boots (“Cajun Reeboks”) not so much. “Nutria is indicative of what can happen if we’re not careful,” Garofano offered, “but it’s also a good opportunity.” The same could have been said of his outlandish garb.
The show began when a model in a nutria bikini and plastic whiskered nose climbed acrobatically into a hoop dangling over the catwalk. (Or ratwalk?) And it concluded, during the auction portion of the evening, when a male model in a tankini performed lasciviously, among the crowd, in a brazen effort to raise both awareness for Louisiana’s wetlands and the bid for his wear from $40 to $45. Don’t be fooled: One head-to-ankle ensemble—an aviator hat, jacket and leg muffs, all nutria—went for $650. Whew. Nutria pelt is hot: Check out a few more outfits here.