Maria Zakharova ignited a social media storm this week when she posted a picture of herself standing on the street in New York City wearing a leopard-pattern fur coat and a pair of dark-blue pumps. Along with the photograph, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson shared the story of how she had been standing in a hotel lobby when an American woman complimented her style, calling her “an iconic Manhattan dweller.”
Several Russian government media outlets, including RT, boosted Zakharova’s Facebook post, and the official Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in the U.S. joined the chorus, with a tweet concluding with her response to the New York woman: "I hate to ruin your dream, but I am Russian.”
The original Facebook post triggered a tsunami of criticism from Zakharova's Russian followers.
There was a debate online on where she was standing – certainly not at or in a hotel. Zakharova was on 67th street in the tony Upper East Side, outside the Russian Mission to the U.N. and less than four blocks from New York’s Central Park.
Thousands questioned Zakharova’s “patriotism” for wearing a foreign made outfit, asking her how she could afford such luxury items on a government salary.
While Zakharova responded to some of the criticism, she ignored the questions about her salary – which could be a separate fact check. Zakharova is the only head of a Russian Foreign Ministry department who does not publicly disclose her income.
Fur certainly might strain the budget of a government employee, even at a senior level. A check of the U.S. online trading site, Ebay.com, reveals a full length leopard print on goat fur would cost 450,000 ₽. An Ocelot fur jacket was more reasonable, 140,000 ₽.
In an apparent show of support for domestic products, Zakharova said that her outfit in the photo was Russian (except for the bag – “Italian” -- and the sunglasses – “possibly Chinese”).
She said her shoes were made by Vitacci – an Italian company with Russian connections. Yet her pumps are not among the 63 styles on the company’s Web site. Maybe an older style?
It was Zakharova’s fur coat that drew the most attention, both on Facebook and on Twitter. The "official face of Russian diplomacy,” as she is known, seems very fond of genuine fur coats. Indeed, on Instagram, she is seen wearing what looks like a genuine mink/silver fox fur coat.
On Facebook, the government employee also models a genuine fox fur coat.
Zakharova says her "iconic Manhattan” style leopard-pattern fur coat came from the “expo Ladya,” held in Moscow last month. But Ladya’s “Winter Fairytale” expo was dedicated to Russian traditional crafts and arts. Only three artisan businesses presented their traditional fur and leather craft items, and none of them produces luxury furs made with a leopard-skin pattern.
The press service of the Ladya National Crafts Exhibition at the World Trade Center in Moscow did not respond to a Polygraph.info inquiry about the participants in the December 2017 event.
A related discussion on social media was whether Zakharova’s coat was made of genuine fur and, if so, from which animal?
Many Facebook followers guessed that the coat was made of genuine leopard fur. However, one man on Twitter responded to a Russian Consulate tweet by saying the coat was “made of 25 Ocelots.”
Polygraph.info attempted to ask Zakharova on Facebook about the origins of her coat, but its question was marked as spam less than three minutes after it was posted.The Foreign Ministry’s press office has not responded to Polygraph.info’s multiple inquiries related to the issue.
Polygraph.info sent Zakharova’s Facebook photograph (with her face obscured) to four experts on big cats. They all responded that they could not determine whether the coat was made out of genuine skin without touching it.
“It appears to be an ocelot coat pattern,” said William Swanson, director of animal research at the Cincinnati Zoo, who could not confirm whether the coat is made of real fur. “But I suspect it is real because the rosette pattern is so variable in the coat like you would see with combining pelts from different ocelots (fake fur is more likely to repeat the same patterns over and over),” he said.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a United Nations body with 183 member countries that regulates international trade in species of fauna and flora to ensure it does not pose a threat to the survival of listed species.
“I don’t know why anyone would still be wearing a real coat like this – since it carries a social stigma these days - but there is no predicting propriety in people anymore,” said Swanson, the zoo animal research director.