Clair Watson, 56, a blueblood British fashionista, is the city’s Cruella de Vil of couture, the top dealer of garments made from tiger, leopard, ocelot, cheetah and jaguar, state records show.
The array of items she brought to public sale also included a leopard porkpie hat, a whale-skin handbag, a seal coat, ivory bangles and a fur cape made from hides of the threatened Geoffroy’s cat, a species of feline found in South America and about the size of a household tabby.
The pieces were all created decades ago, some for famous fashion houses like Halston and Maximilian, according to records from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which monitors the trade.
CRITTERS, BEWARE! Clair Watson is the state’s top dealer in items made from endangered animals’ fur.
The agency allows articles from threatened or extinct species to be bought and sold as long as the animals used to make them were killed prior to the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.
The DEC lists 15 clothing items with Watson’s name attached — the most of any broker in the state — and each hit the block while Watson worked with the Doyle auction house on the Upper East Side from 2003 to 2007. She continues to consult for Doyle and private collectors.
Prices are not listed in state records, but many of the endangered-animal skins fetched thousands of dollars.
Miami resident Amy Hollub plunked down about $3,000 for a 1950s jaguar coat, hat and belt that Watson auctioned at Doyle’s in 2004.
“A friend of mine and I went — it was my first and last auction,” Hollub said. “It was impulsive.”
A month after Hollub returned home, Doyle’s called to say she had to send the items back, explaining that state law prohibits transporting such garments out of New York. She complied.
Watson’s fur trade appalled People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“Clair sounds like a sadistic safari guide to people who might have money but are morally bankrupt,” said PETA rep Dan Mathews.
Watson came here from London in the ’90s, when she worked for Benetton. Some credit her with spurring the vintage-clothing craze among socialites.
She grew up amid opulence in Calcutta, India, where her father was an entrepreneur. When he fell ill, the Watsons had to return to England.
“It was the end of privilege,” she said in an interview on her Web site.
But it wasn’t all hardship: Her grandmother took her shopping in Knightsbridge, walking two Dalmatians while sporting a full-length Dalmatian-print coat.
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