Day three of Milan Fashion Week, and the international style press hold their double espresso-scented breath as the most luxurious Italian houses - Versace, Fendi, Prada, Bottega Veneta and Gucci - unveil their winter collections for 2008/2009.
Whether hemlines drop from midi to maxi or acid colours re-fade to black, one theme is a dead cert: the lavish, ubiquitous and unapologetic use of fur.
While in the Nineties real fur crept off the London and New York catwalks in shame - following the high-profile "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" supermodel campaign led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) - Milan has always revelled in the decadent display of animal pelts.
And in the past few years, real fur has crawled back stealthily into the collections of designers all around the world, including Britain. Celebrities - most significantly former PETA models Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell - have unashamedly sported pelted coats.
And where does vintage fit into the fur debate? The rights and wrongs of wearing fur coats from the Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies is an ethical grey area.
Across the country, thousands of fur coats hang like guilty secrets in the back of wardrobes, passed down from grandmothers who wore mink and sable in good faith long before we started talking about animal rights.
Should we condemn vintage fur in the same way that today's designers attract criticism for using pelts? After all, recycling an old fur coat means that no animals have to die today to satisfy our desire for this luxury look.
In the Italian market, fur is synonymous with glamour. Last year, Milan's 'fur fest' reached fever pitch: Fendi's £35,000 striped chinchilla and silver fox coat was made from 60 pelts; Gucci's Lee Miller-inspired aviator jackets were edged with fur; and Dolce & Gabbana's leopard-print gowns were teamed with dyed mink bomber jackets to maximise the glamour of Hollywood's heyday.
Spearheaded by the new bling generation led by J-Lo, Beyonce and P-Diddy, fur has been reinstated as the status symbol of the Noughties jet set.
In Paris last year, Balenciaga's global nomad collection included fox stoles and distressed fur gilets, while in London Julien MacDonald worked with every conceivable animal from sable to mink, chinchilla and fox.
It seems autumn/winter 2008/2009 is set to follow the trend, with Caroline Herrera's fur-trimmed hunting-inspired jackets and Camilla Staerk's leather and fur separates in New York, and Roksanda Ilincic's pinksashed furs in London.
The A-list has followed suit. Madonna, Eva Longoria, Linda Evangelista, Kim Cattrall, Jerry Hall, Lindsey Lohan and French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld have all worn fur in public.
We might secretly yearn for the oldfashioned allure, glamour and warmth of a fox stole or a Russian fur hat, but few of us can square our morals with an industry in which 40 million animals are killed every year for fashion - and that's leaving the five-figure price tags aside.
In general, the British public believes in beauty without cruelty. Fur farms were made illegal in 2003 on grounds of offending "public morality", and 93 per cent of people are against wearing real fur, according to a recent RSPCA poll.
Ever since green became the new black, fashion has become a minefield of complicated moral and ethical dilemmas.
Eco-columnists and fashion environmentalists - from Katharine Hamnett to Anya Hindmarch - have emphasised the urgent need to recycle everything from bags and shoes to textiles and clothes. But they have been strangely silent on vintage fur.
PETA asks that vintage fur coats be donated to its animal rights organisation as educational aids. But the new "waste not want not" approach to textiles, coupled with the fact that vintage fur lasts up to 100 years, leaves fashion with a new dilemma. What is the most ethical thing to do with vintage fur?
Alex Barlow, a PR consultant for designer label Handwritten, is one of a new breed of fashion-conscious British women buying vintage as a guilt-free alternative to contemporary fur.
It's also a more affordable one: vintage fur is up to ten times cheaper than a contemporary fur coat.
"I am against real fur - in that I don't approve of new garments being made from fur - but I am OK about wearing vintage," she says.
"The animal has been dead for decades and that at least means I'm not part of the contemporary supply chain."
She's not the only one who has this view. "Sales of vintage mink coats have rocketed," says Annie Moss of Annie's Vintage in North London.
"Many people see vintage as an ethical choice: a guilt-free, pro-animal rights, pro-environmental way of wearing fur."
THE Fur Council of Canada's Fur Is Green campaign claimed that real fur is "natural, renewable, biodegradable and energy efficient". In contrast, synthetic fur is made from plastic, produced with toxic chemicals and is non-biodegradable.
The British Fur Trade Association found fake fur was responsible for 50 per cent of our toxic nitrous oxide emissions and that it takes a gallon of oil to produce three fake fur coats.
In response, the University of Michigan hit back with research suggesting that it took 20 times the amount of energy to make a real fur coat rather than a faux version.
While there is evidence to suggest that farmed and fake fur both cause damage to the environment, wearing vintage fur - which has already been processed - has no additional costs to the planet.
Indeed, recycling fur into reusable products can be seen to make environmental sense. Harricana in Quebec has been recycling vintage coats since 1994, turning Montreal's old fur coats into practical hats, mittens and skiwear for Canada's minus 40-degree winter temperatures.
"I think everything that is going to be thrown away should be reused, even if you don't believe in the original product," says Mariouche GagnÈ, the owner and chief designer of the company.
"I've recycled more than 50,000 fur coats in 14 years. It takes about ten animals to make a fur coat, so the way I see it, I've saved half a million animals by offering people an alternative."
In Britain, celebrity tailor Julia Dee from Designer Alterations is one of the first to respond to the increasing demand to remodel vintage fur coats.
"We narrow them and make them contemporary with inspiration from the catwalk," says Dee, whose clients include Yoko Ono, Claudia Schiffer and Elle Macpherson. "My clients get a customised fur coat that's guilt-free and at a fraction of the price of a new one."
She also recycles second-hand coats bought at flea markets. For between £40 and £100 you can buy a vintage fur coat and, with Dee's sartorial know-how, you can be the envy of Milan fashion week - without the stigma.
For example, an Eighties black fur rabbit coat with shoulder pads makes the perfect copycat Balenciaga distressed sleeveless gilet. Dee's team remove the sleeves and remodel the coat on a stand before turning it inside out and fastening it with a corset belt.
Twelve strips of rabbit fur will make you this season's Marc Jacobs-inspired pom-pom fur bonnet - without the shame.
Alternatively, use the sleeves of an old jumper and some of the rabbit fur to make a version of Cacharel's brown lapin gilet (£455 from www.net-a-porter.com). A baggy Forties brown striped musquash can be transformed into a chic winter gilet.
"A lot of vintage coats are distressed at the seams, but the fur is often good," says Dee.
"You need to replace some stitches or work around the disintegrated bits, and it's usually necessary to remove the rotten shoulder pads and re-line the coat." (This season, Dee's team is using fuchsia, yellow and lime linings to give a fresh, modern feel.)
Before you buy an old coat for remodelling, be aware that mink and sable can remain in mint condition for 100 years if kept in a cold room, but chinchilla fur is more fragile and can disintegrate quickly.
Musquash, squirrel, raccoon, New Zealand possum, North American grey fox and some types of rabbit are all considered wild fur - trapped as part of wildlife population control schemes. They have no vintage value, though they are long-lasting and are cheap to buy.
Leopardskin, though, even if it is vintage, is a no-no because it's an endangered species.
Once you've found your vintage coat, you need to get it professionally cleaned. Animal pelts should always be kept in cold storage to maintain their condition.
So how easy is it to recycle a fur coat? Furriers use special knives - not scissors - and because a coat is made from up to 60 pelts, all of which need to be cut around and re-sewn, it is no task for an amateur.
"The most straightforward thing to recycle at home would be a cushion or fur trim," says Designer Alterations' Josie Cowen.
" You can make it from the off-cuts or the bottom part of another coat. Just make sure that the pelt is laying downwards for a trim and frontwards for a collar. A practical fur cover can be made from attaching fur to an existing tartan blanket as a backing."
Environmental broadcaster, author and journalist Lucy Siegle agrees that there are potential environmental benefits to recycling fur, but is concerned by the connotations of wearing fur for fashion's sake.
"Despite the practical case for recycling fur, the emotive politics remain," she says. "If you wear fur as a fashion item - even if it's vintage - there is an argument to say that to some extent you are perpetuating a taste for wearing real fur."
Only your own conscience can dictate your actions. But if you're still worried about the stigma of wearing fur, then turn your old coat into a warm winter blanket or cushion that will last for generations. It's easier to sew - and at least you know your grandma would approve.