WITH FURS COSTING as little as $150 from a furrier, what used to be an immediately recognizable symbol of wealth has simply become today’s badge of style. Contemporary furs are being worn by all ages, both sexes, and with everything from jeans to evening wear. This season, you can expect to see furs worn while shopping, attending church, PTA meetings, the symphony, and that big everyman’s fashion show – Dallas Cowboys football games.
And where else but Texas could you find a jogging suit or ski suit made of mink paw and sheared rabbit? The après-ski suit comes in a combination of dyed fur in burgundy and blue from Koslow’s. And their ultimate answer for roughing it? A fox sleeping bag made of snow-topped dyed fox on both sides of the blanket.
Seymour Kanoff, vice president of Koslow’s, believes furs are a good investment and value. “Furs, if taken care of properly, can remain beautiful for decades. You probably would want to restyle the fur for a more updated look, but the quality of the fur will last about 30 years. Fur has not inflated its prices relative to other commodities.”
“Thirty years ago, a woman could buy a mink coat for $6000 to $7000, and she still can today,” says Jerry Duplar, Koslow’s Dallas store manager.
According to several Dallas furriers, the best-selling fur is mink, which maintains its sheen and silkiness over a long period of time. It is the most popular in the contemporary and classic looks.
“Mink is easy to work with,” says Steve Birn-baum, owner of Valentine Furs in Highland Park Village. He shares the fur business with his father, Harry, a mink specialist. More than 30 years ago Stanley Marcus recruited Harry from New York to be the furrier for Neiman-Marcus down-town. The senior Birnbaum says, “If you know mink, there’s not a fur you can’t sew. You have to have a special touch.” He took over Valentine Furs 14 years ago, and recently became partners with his son, the fourth generation in a family of furriers.
“Starting out, a woman should look for fashion, but not too far out,” says Birnbaum. “For a first fur, 1 recommend a jacket. She’ll wear it more. If a woman feels a long-hair fur is the more exciting look she wants, she should buy it, especially if she intends to buy another fur. Her lifestylemight not call for a mink,” continues Birn-baum, “but if she intends to buy only one fur, it should be a mink. It will be appropriate in more places, and will last longest.”
Furrier Sam Bifano, of Sam Bifano Furs, agrees. “Generally, there’s only one fur, always will be only one fur, that is great for everyone-mink. It carries the greatest value for the money spent, and always will. If taken care of properly, it has a highly extended life, and its redesign possibilités are endless.”
If mink is out of your price range, or seems too mature for your lifestyle, Sam Bifano recommends Australian opossum as a contemporary alternative. “It has great durability, and can be dyed a multitude of colors. It is a youthful-look fur, and can be restyled with some success. It’s very important, though, to keep it cleaned because opossum is a very thick fur that can look matted down if it gets dirty,” he says.
Szor-Diener spokesman Freddie Pytow-ski recommends that women always start out with the basic mink for their first fur investment. “Mink will always be the fashion piece – the Cadillac of furs. It is the most durable, the most flexible, and since the hairs are flat, is appropriate for women of all sizes.”
Furs are a costly investment, but until the last two years their price had not fluctuated as wildly as other luxury items’. For years, the average annual increase was 2 to 5 per cent. “We have seen a drastic increase in the last two years,” Pytowski says. “Supply and demand is a factor, as well as increasing costs all along the production line- higher feed costs at the ranches, employee and equipment costs up in the tanning house, and higher shipping and insurance rates.” The price of a fur garment also reflects the number of skins used and their quality.
Birnbaum explains the recent effects of supply and demand: “Ten years ago the United States bought 80 per cent of the world’s furs. Two years ago Japan bought 50 per cent, and Germany bought 25 per cent. The rest of the world competed for the remaining 25 per cent.”
The New Look
Most Dallas furriers agree that the look this year is the short jacket. It is versatile, sporty, and well-suited to Texas’ climate.
“The look today is simplicity, the close-to-the-body look,” says Pytowski. “The short jackets, long coats with shoulder pads, and colors are all big this season.”
“The Dallas look, as far as this year is concerned, is the 28-inch jacket,” says AT. “Tony” Bifano, president of Bifano’s. He explains that the jacket in the Southwest is popular because it suits the lifestyle. The jacket is long enough to go over a suit jacket or a blazer, and yet looks good with a dress or pants. All lengths should be suited to the proportions of the customer.
“The 32-inch stroller is as Texan as the pecan and the bluebonnet,” Bifano continues. “This year the Western look will be good,” he adds. “The classic Western look, not the Buffalo Bill look. It is youth personified, or, if not youth, certainly the young at heart.” An offshoot of the Western influence is the ultrasuede and opossum jacket with button-on sleeves, which can be removed to make a vest.
For a dressier look, try a full-length mink with a sable collar, which adds a soft look to a woman’s face.
“When buying a fuh-length mink coat, make sure to get a length that will go with various dress lengths,” warns Birnbaum. “It should be about two inches longer than the dress. Furs can be altered up or down, in or out, and the skins can be matched.”
The full-length silhouette can have a slightly shaped or straight-back body. Contemporary furs feature structured shoulders. Collars are becoming smaller. The notch, wing, mandarin, shawl, and petal collars are all open collars offering a variety of look
In the fur salons, consultants will suggest flattering silhouettes for the customer as she tries on furs. There are two schools of thought when it comes to color recommendations. Some consultants advise that the color of the fur should enhance the person, not what she will wear with it. Rather than a stark contrast or a dull monotone, these consultants guide the customer to a monochromatic look. All the colors in a woman’s complexion and hair should blend with the fur into one pleasing hue, they believe.
Some furriers, however, prefer to contrast the fur’s coloring with that of the wearer’s skin. “If a woman gives me an open door to helping her pick a coat, I’ll go for contrast with the skin,” says Sam Bifano. “The skin is the one thing about a person that isn’t likely to change color very much.”
Sometimes, customers come in with preconceived ideas of what they want or think they’ll look good in. “If a lady with purple skin wants yucca yellow fur, I’m probably going to sell it to her,” Sam Bifano admits. “She can always go elsewhere, if I refuse, and she will eventually find someone who will.” In general, try not to be too sure of what you want before you see yourself in a coat. The experience of the added bulk may change your mind about the length of hair you want on your fur, or the cut that best suits you.
With the large number of younger, professional women investing in furs, the longhaired garments are popular, but you should remember that those with short hair, like mink, are the slenderizing furs.
Fox and lynx are the two most notable long hairs in a category that includes rabbit, coyote, and opossum. Coyote is particularly popular in men’s furs, with opossum and coyote frequently combined with leather for the Western look. Rabbit, a less expensive fur, is usually sheared, dyed, or stenciled to look more like a costly fur. Lynx offers the long-haired, spotted look of the wild. Silver, blue, white, gray, beige, brown, black, and red are the natural colors available for the elegance of fox. It may be the fur best suited to Texas weather since it is both lightweight and elegant. James McElhannon, executive vice president of Tauben Furs, feel that both mink and fox suit Texans. Fisher and stone marten garments are heavier furs best for those living in Northern cities.
James Hirsch, president of James Hirsch Furs on Regal Row, recommends raccoon as this year’s bargain. When the popularity of furs suddenly jumped last year, raccoon was overpriced, and sales did not match industry predictions. This year, however, raccoon is priced in the $ 1200 to $5000 range, a savings of 15 to 20 per cent over last year’s price
Another good buy in full-length coats, surprisingly, is the Alaskan fur seal. Although exposure of illegal trapping procedures has caused its popularity to wane in recent years, Alaskan fur seal may eventually make a comeback, thanks to strict government controls. A prescribed quota of adult males is taken annually for seal population control, and these skins are legally available for fur designs.
Men’s furs are much more fun and stylish this year. There are the traditional full-length minks, Western-style jackets in leather reversing to coyote, and even a mink baseball jacket, with contrasting rugby stripes. The prices in men’s stylings range from $1000 to $9500.
A Rainbow of Colors
The most popular color in mink is ranch, which is the darkest. Blackglama, Black Diamond, and Black Willow are registered trademarks of ranch mink. Other popular natural colors include lunuraine (brown), turmalene (blonde), and autumn haze (light brown).
The very fashion-conscious fur industry has brought out more contemporary furs, attempting to appeal to younger women. Color has been added to the picture, with plum, maroon, blue, and burgundy joining natural color.
“I usually recommend the colored furs to the highly fashion conscious,” says Sam Bifano. “Anyone else might feel too timid about wearing them once they got them out of the store and out on the street.”
Other new looks in fur include combining different skins, such as fox and raccoon, fox and opossum, and fox and beaver. The fox can be added as sleeves, or sewn with the other fur for a chevron or checkerboard effect. “When you combine these two types of fur, and one has a predominant quality of durability and the other is more pretty than it is durable, what you come out with is essentially a more durable-wearing fur that has the look of the more attractive texture,” says Sam Bifano.
Texas design furrier Pam Mahoney emphasizes that colors have never been more important in furs than this year: “In addition to the natural colors, rich tones of bronze, claret, raisin, taupe, and wheat are seen.”
Accessories can enhance the look of a fur. A good way to add color to a natural fur is with a belt of leather, suede, knit, or reptile. “The gently fluid, long coat can be softly belted for narrow waists, or left unbelted to flow elegantly on the largerwaisted woman,” says Mrs. Mahoney, one of a few women in the U.S. to head a wholesale operation. Fur hats have made a comeback, and can be worn by themselves with a suit. Fur cowboy hats are big, also.
Updating Older Styles
If it is time to update your fur into a more contemporary style, consult an area furrier about restyling. In about four to six weeks, the furrier can take the strongest remaining fur from your old garment and transform it into a stylish, contemporary look. With the addition of leather, suede, ultrasuede, knit, or matching fur, you can have a new jacket, sweater, or vest. A blouson sweater is created by adding rib-knit sleeves, button front, and blouson tie at the bottom of the restyled garment. A short jacket can be redesigned to reverse to ultrasuede with button-on sleeves, which gives three options from one jacket: the ultrasuede jacket with fur lining, the fur vest, and the ultrasuede vest.
Reputable furriers in Dallas guarantee their work. If they don’t think restyling is a good investment for the customer, they will turn down a garment. They may suggest that the customer trade in the old fur on an allowance toward a new purchase.
Restyling prices begin at $400, depending on what style the customer wants and what needs to be added. This compares nicely to the new fur range of $150 to $100,000.
Service and Care
Furriers realize that service and selling go hand in hand, and that customer service is even more important after the fur is sold. For example, Koslow’s offers “champagne shopping” limousine service for visitors from hotels or the airport as well as for residents. Furriers also offer several services to help customers maintain their furs.
Because of the Texas heat, furriers stress the importance of placing furs in storage during the summer. Many furriers maintain on-premises fur storage in cool and humidity-controlled vaults. Pick up and delivery service is usually available by the furriers’ bonded messengers. When the fur is put into storage, a consultant inspects each fur and recommends repairs, such as replacement of closings and repair of linings, that need to be made. One important advantage fur has over other fibers and fabrics is that repairs generally do not mar or noticeably change its appearance.
Furriers strongly recommend insuring furs, which can be scheduled on a homeowner’s policy. Ask your furrier every other year if you need to update the appraisal value.
Szor-Diener spokesman Pytowski recommends easy steps for fur care: “Clean your fur every other year, put it in storage every year and it will last 15 to 20 years.” The cleaning process replaces the natural oil which preserves the softness and sheen.
Never wear jewelry that can rub the fur, or pin anything directly to it. Furs should be hung on a heavy hanger in a closet that is not tightly packed. Do not store furs in a plastic bag, or pillow case with holes cut for the garment’s arms: Furs need to “breathe.” If you are caught in rain, and your fur is damp, let it dry in a cool, well ventilated area. If it needs further attention, the hairs can be smoothed with a light combing with a dog brush. In general, remember that the fur came from a living animal, and treat it accordingly.
Given the proper care, furs will provide many years of beauty and enjoyment.
To the uninitiated, the world of furs may seem a forbidding place, even with affordable prices. Explaining the kinds of furs available, and their origin, colors, and styling, the following list should help eliminate the confusion, hesitation, and doubt you feel when entering a local fur salon. The price ranges given are those from jackets to strollers and full-length coats (full-length being dress-length unless otherwise noted). Prices are typical of those found in Dallas fur salons, although greater savings may be found in department stores and, of course, during seasonal sales.
Mink. A durable fur best for a lifetime investment. The finest is from American and Canada; soft, dense underfur with shiny guard hair; the best is silky, dense, and evenly colored, with a dark stripe down back. Wild mink is usually brown; ranch (or mutation) mink has been bred to achieve a variety of colors from white to beige, gray, brown, and black. Gills, sides, and paws are often pieced. Jackets and strollers $1695 to $5995; full coats $4995 to $13,00
Fox. Soft, thick underfur with long, shiny guard hair, this fur is not very durable. Natural silver fox has blue-black underfur with silver guard hair; natural red fox is brown-red or orange, with red, silver, or cross-bred pelts; natural blue fox is blue-brown; Norwegian blue fox is silver-blue. Natural white fox is white from the Arctic regions, and natural cross fox ranges in color from red to silver, with a dark cross on the back of the neck. Gray, beige, and brown fox are all mutations. $995 to $4995.
Lynx. The best from Canada, also from Alaska, and Scandinavia; long-haired, creamy-white to pale brown hair with spotted belly. Tends to shed. $2995 to $19,00
Lynx cat. North America; soft hair shorter than lynx, reddish-black with spotted, white belly. $1500 to $16,000.
Sable. Russia and Alaska; most expensive of furs. Soft, dense, dark brown underfur with silky, lustrous guard hair. Related to marten. Full-length Russians $18,000 to $60,000
Stone marten. Europe and Asia; soft, dense, white-gray underfur with extremely long, brown guard hair. A rare fur that must be trapped in its natural environment; expensive. $3500 to $16,000
Beaver. America and Canada; dense, silky underfur with long guard hair that is usually plucked and sheared. Often bleached or dyed pale colors. $1995 to $4995.
Chinchilla. South America and American ranches; very perishable and costly.
Short, dense, silky fur; the best has dark underfur with bluish-gray guard hair. $3995 to $25,000 for a floor-length coat.
Rabbit. Inexpensive, but tends to shed and is not durable. Long, silky hair; used in natural colors, and is often sheared, dyed, or stenciled to imitate more costly furs. $149 to $995.
Coyote. American prairie wolf; soft underfur with long, yellow-gray or blue guard hair. Popular in men’s styles. $1495 to $8995.
Opossum. American has dense underfur with long, silky guard hair in black-gray to silver-gray. Australian has short, dense, woolly underfur with blue-gray guard hair. $595 to $1995.
Muskrat. America and Canada; often plucked, sheared, or dyed. Northern muskrat has short, dense underfur, dark back, and silver sides and belly. Jersey muskrat has short, dense underfur, dark brown centers, beige sides, and lighter rears. Southern muskrat has sparse, flat, pale fur. $995 to $2495.
Raccoon. America; durable; dense, woolly underfur with long guard hair. Natural raccoon is silver-brown to dark brown; often sheared to imitate other furs, then bleached or dyed. $1200 to $5000.
Ermine. Russia and Canada; dense underfur with silky guard hair. Pure white, silky Siberian with black-tipped tail is best. Usually used for trim, can be custom-styled as bolero or cape. $2500 to $5000.
Squirrel. Dense, soft, silky underfur with shiny guard hair; fragile. Clear gray pelts are natural, others usually dyed. Jackets $1200 to $250
Alaskan fur seal. Pribilof Islands in northern Pacific; government-controlled use of bachelor male pelts only. Dense, short fur with long guard hair plucked. Dyed black, dark brown. Fur seal is typically available in full coats only because of the large size of the pelts. $3000 to $6000.
Fisher. North Canada; durable, expensive fur; looks like a cross between a raccoon and fox. Brown underfur with black-tipped guard hair. Full-length coats $10,000 to $30,000.
Nutria. North and South America; also called coypu. Short, dense underfur with dark, shiny guard hair. Plucked, unpacked, and often sheared. $600 to $4000.
Persian lamb. Asia, from Karakul sheep; durable, traditional fur. Silky, lustrous, with patterns of tight ripples or curls. Natural colors in gray, brown, and black. Brown and black are often dyed to increase lustre. $995 to $5000.
Broadtail lamb. From newborn Persian lambs; fragile. Flat, shiny, moire-patterned hair in gray, black, or brown. May be dyed. $3000 to $9000.
American broadtail processed lamb. Silky, shiny, with moire pattern achieved by shearing and pressing Fine wool sheep. Natural white, often dyed black, brown, or gray. $1000 to $2500.
The following includes Dallas retailers, and wholesalers with retail outlets.
Arlington Furs, 1900 East Randol Mill Road. 261.7116.
Bifano Fur Co., 2909 Fairmount. 741-4136.
Sam Bifano Furs, 1517 Main Street. 748-3342; also 8300 Preston Road. 750-5776.
Fine Furs by Rubin, 5932 W. Northwest Highway. 363-9520.
The Furworks, 5301 Beltline Road. 386-8980.
Gerhardt Fur Co., 6133 Berkshire. 363-4626.
Harrisis & Son Furriers, 1530 Main Street. 748-7942.
James Hirsch Furs, 1676 Regal Row. 638-1710.
Koslow’s Exclusive Furriers, Caruth Plaza. 361-6400; also 405 West 7th Street, Fort Worth, metro number 429-1236.
Kowstiw’s, 409 Pipeline Road. 268-4172.
Mouratidis Fur Couturier, Inc., 2800 Routh. 742-6100.
Parisian-Peyton’s, 4107 Bryan Street. 823-6115.
Szor-Diener Co. Inc., 2952 Stemmons Freeway. 637-0940.
Tauben Furs Inc., 2600 Stemmons Freeway. 631-6602.
Valentine Furs, 79 Highland Park Shopping Village. 528-1172.
Table Fur Co., 3400 Oak Lawn. 521-9515.