Cicely Hansen, the longtime owner of Decades Of Fashion at the corner of Haight and Belvedere who was "flabbergasted" by a raid on her store last year by California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials, was charged Wednesday with nine misdemeanor counts relating to the possession for sale of parts of endangered animals. Investigators say that they seized more than 150 items in the February 2016 raid, including clothing and accessories made from endangered animals like jaguars, ocelots, sea turtles, and more. Appearing in court decked out in a hat and fur stole, Hansen, 68, said she was unaware that she was breaking any law and she believed that because the items were made decades ago, they were fair game. Separately she also claimed, as the Chronicle reports, that some of the items seized were from her personal collection, handed down from her mother and grandmother in some cases, and were not for sale.
A key to the misunderstanding, which may be genuine, is that the law pertaining to such items has changed in California while the vintage exception remains in much of the country. Speaking to CBS 5 and other outlets outside the courtroom Wednesday, Hansen said, "The ruling I’d always gone by, because I’ve been involved in vintage for a long time, anything that was done before 1972 is considered vintage. And apparently, that’s true throughout the United States, but that’s changed in California. And I was totally unaware of that."
The law change in California took effect in January 2016, one month before the raid on Hansen's store.
But District Attorney George Gascon isn't totally buying it, saying that when a game warden was tipped off to Hansen's operation and entered the store undercover, asking to try on some of the illegal items including a jaguar coat priced at $4,500 Hansen directed the warden to a special "secluded" area of the store. Gascon said in a news conference, per CBS 5, "She had a normal operation that sold vintage clothing out front. This [other area where the furs were kept] was more in the back in a more discreet part of the store This was purposely kept for a more discreet clientele."
Of course the secluded area could also have been Hansen's own adaptation to a neighborhood where the clientele might not have been happy about finding furs being sold at all, endangered species or otherwise, but that's not how Gascon sees it. He suggests Hansen was catering to a "very high-end market" and that cases like this are very uncommon.
If found guilty on all counts, Gascon says, Hansen could face up to four and a half years in jail and a $45,000 fine.
Speaking to the Chronicle's Leah Garchik last year following the raid, Hansen said her business is "about recycling and honoring," and "We were not coming from a place of malicious intent."
Hansen says she's a vegetarian, and told the Chronicle "I'd rather die before I’d kill an animal," but she's says she's a keeper of an era in fashion history when these items were not taboo.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, as in the ABC 7 video above, Hansen called herself a "preservationist" and said, "They do that with film. They break their necks to preserve film because film is art, and art deserves to be preserved."