By  on January 5, 2005

NEW YORK — Bald, androgynous mannequins wearing only fur coats and Dolce & Gabbana neon tights in the windows of Housing Works’ Upper West Side store show just how far fur has come.

In winters past, the four-store nonprofit operation, which sells donated secondhand clothes and other items to help homeless New Yorkers living with HIV or AIDS, rang up its share of fur coat sales, but last month’s tally was unprecedented.

In December, Housing Works sold about 100 coats, including a brand new sable number that was auctioned off in the window of the East 77th Street store for $10,000. But most of the fur coats retail between $100 and $1,000. Shoppers also have plenty of shrugs, hats, muffs and stoles to sift through in the four stores.

Considering the flurry of fur in stores and in fashion spreads, Shana Maron-Ames, Housing Works’ director of stores, surmised that last year’s castaways are being replaced with more updated pieces. “We’ve definitely seen a dramatic increase in our fur sales and fur donations,” she said.

Christopher Trujillo, visual director of the Housing Works store at 306 Columbus Avenue, credits musicians for revving up consumers’ interest in fur. “The R&B crowd especially doesn’t seem fearful about wearing fur. They wear it all and to all types of places — even the men.”

Given that, Trujillo sees muffs making a bit of a comeback. “They are more affordable. They offer a punch of excitement in an outfit and they are easier to check at nightclubs. Many people who wear furs out at night to clubs are afraid to check them or to set them down.”

As for the four fur coats positioned in Trujillo’s striking window display, they are being auctioned for upward of $345; bids close in stores and at Housingworksauctions.com on Jan. 10. One hunchbacked mannequin’s hand is extended with a palmful of change — “a little spin” Trujillo threw in to remind passersby that Housing Works’ purchases go to charity.

“I know. I was a client,” said Trujillo, who has been HIV positive for 14 years.

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