It is the most contentious item of clothing on the catwalk, found on everything from shoes to coats to chain necklaces. Fur is back.

According to the Fur Information Council of America, fur appears in 20 per cent more of the autumn/winter catwalk collections this year than last. At Oscar de la Renta, coats were trimmed with fox; at Lanvin, black cropped jackets were adorned with shaggy fox collars; Carlos Miele showed cropped fox jackets and swing astrakhan (Persian lamb) coats; at Helmut Lang there were grey rabbit gilets; Jean Paul Gaultier introduced black coats with mink; while Fendi had coats, shawls and gilets in fox, mink and shearling.

Torben Nielson, chief executive of Kopenhagen Fur, a Danish fur auction house, says prices of fur have doubled on last year, with mink and Persian lamb in particular selling fast. “China and Russia are exploding: China accounts for more than half our business,” he says. “Half of [the fur] is consumed in China, and half is used by Chinese furriers to produce pieces for luxury brands.”

Celebrities are wearing fur more often, too, irrespective of milder winters or protesters from People for the Equal Treatment of Animals (Peta). Last week, Kate Moss emerged from dinner at The Ivy restaurant in London wearing a shaggy fur gilet; days later Love magazine editor Katie Grand was photographed in a bold white fur piece from Louis Vuitton.

Robert Burke, a New York-based luxury consultant, says the reason for fur’s popularity is its newfound modernity. “It’s no longer about the old fur coat department. Fashion designers are putting their stamp on pieces now.”

And it is not only the established guard who are using fur but also younger designers such as Thakoon and Zac Posen. Thakoon has worked fox, mink and raccoon patches into jackets, Posen striped fox fur into multicoloured coats.

Brix Smith Start, owner of Start London boutiques, believes the ascendance of fur is partly a result of the economy, with consumers wanting investment pieces and “tangible luxury”. It has even emerged on accessories: Manolo Blahnik’s high-heel booties are trimmed in chinchilla; Céline’s satin open-toe mules with rabbit-fur lining; and Louis Vuitton’s chain-link necklaces are interspersed with fur.

Fur’s increased prevalence, however, is still a divisive issue for retailers and consumers alike. That’s why fur associations have been striving to transform its image. Saga furs, a body representing 3,000 breeders in Finland and Norway, has worked with young fashion designers for 10 years, sponsoring shows and providing free samples in order to give fur a fashion edge and reach younger audiences.

“Young people are buying fur now, and they’re more educated about where it comes from,” says Diane Benedetti, vice-president of advertising and promotion at North American Fur Auctions. “We’ve worked with environmental conservationists; the industry is heavily regulated. We’ve also tried to communicate our ethical practices much more. People are embracing fur again because of that. They’re seeing it more for it’s environmental benefits. Buying fur is better than buying a polyester jacket you’ll throw away the next minute, and will take 30 years to biodegrade. It’s the opposite of disposable.”

But many designers, including Miu Miu, Chanel and Nina Ricci, have rejected real fur and tried to create a similar luxurious effect with high-quality faux fur. Sarah Curran, founder and chief executive of retail website, says, “We’ve seen an increase in extremely high-quality faux fur, which has featured heavily in the collections of designers such as Jaeger London, Sportmax, See by Chloé and Love Moschino. Around 35 per cent of our coat buy this season includes faux fur.”

Ed Burstell, buying director at Liberty, in London, concurs. “The quality of faux fur has improved so much,” he says, adding that the store had tripled its buy of faux fur pieces from last autumn. “Before it had the reputation for looking cheap, but now you can hardly tell the difference.”

Burstell notes, however, that there is still resistance among consumers to paying the same price as for the real thing. “People don’t realise that it actually works in reverse with faux fur. The process of making really great faux fur is actually more expensive than buying real fur.”