Rare snake skins are fashion fodder

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By Don McHoull

Rare snake skins were just what Ron Chen needed to give himself an edge in a campus fashion exhibition.

“For a couture collection, you need luxury materials,” explains the fourth-year fashion student.

Chen spent about $3,000 to acquire the skins of eight Burmese Pythons, which he imported from Malaysia.

“Burmese Python is very limited, but they are not endangered,” said Chen.

The Burmese Python is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as an at risk species, and requires a special permit to import.

Chen said he isn’t bothered by using a rare species for the sake of fashion.

“I don’t really care about that,” he said. “I think people should be able to enjoy what nature has to offer.”

Chen also said he isn’t bothered by the fact he has more money to spend on material than his classmates.

“We have to design to our different styles,” he said. “My style is high couture, very luxurious.”

Chen’s parents, who he described as international traders, supply him with the money he needs to buy expensive animal skins and fur for his creations. He said he has spent about $15,000 so far on his most recent collection, which also includes fox fur and baby alligator skin.

Ernie Cooper, who monitors the international animal trade for the World Wildlife Foundation, said that while the Burmese Python wasn’t endangered, it is almost impossible to estimate how many still exist in the wild.

“My main concern is that nobody has any idea how many of these snakes are still out there,” he said.

Chen said he had a permit to import the snake skins for his designs.

Chen plans to sell the jacket he made form python skin for about $9,000, with the short pants and shirt each going for about a third of that.

“There’s a lot of people interested in that jacket,” he said.

After a public backlash against fashions made from animal skins during the 90s, Chen said Sept. 11 changed people’s attitudes.

“People realized that life is very short, and that money should be spent and enjoyed,” he said.

Chen plans to move to Milan after graduating from Ryerson this year. He says he has a job lines up with the high-end fashion house Versace.

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