By  on May 17, 1994

MONTREAL -- The extreme cold of last winter, coupled with a continuing economic recovery, helped make this year's edition of the North American Fur and Fashion Exposition here one of the most successful in recent seasons.

Bookings were reported up, as was attendance. On the worrisome side, skin prices were up, too, but concerns over price didn't dim the generally better feelings that prevailed.

The four-day show ran through May 7 at Place Bonaventure.

Among the retailers shopping at the show in an upbeat mood was David Meltzer, president of Evans Inc., Chicago, who said his open-to-buy was up 20 percent over a year ago.

"Our inventories are more aggressively planned than last year," said the retail furrier. "We're taking certain deliveries earlier."

Meltzer also viewed the price situation positively: "Prices are finally starting to move up. In the last couple of years, they've been below the cost of production."

Others, though, were not as sanguine about the price hikes. For example, exhibitor Larry Marchfeld, a partner in Tendler Furs, New York, said higher prices were a factor in order writing, which -- spurred by low inventories -- nevertheless was moving ahead of last year, .

Marchfeld said skin prices were up at least 30 percent. He said the hikes were pretty much across the board, but that they were particularly evident in mink, because it is so broadly used.

"We're giving incentives to write early, such as offering the same prices as last year on some furs," he said.

Another U.S. exhibitor was J. Lakis & Sons of New York, representing the Mary McFadden label. The firm was showing here for the first time in four years.

"There seems to be a little more optimism within the industry," said owner John Lakis, who specializes in mink. He said he had a "fair" season, and that most of his customers had low inventory, which "gives me reason to believe this coming season will be even better."

"However," he added, "there's uncertainty about prices moving up."

According to Del Haylock, executive vice president of the Fur Council of Canada, skin prices are running 30 to 50 percent higher than last year, with some foxes up 70 to 80 percent."There's a shortage of supply with a huge opening of markets in China, Korea and Russia. About 65 new [fur] stores opened in China alone last year."

Prices on garments right now, however, are a blend of old skin prices on furriers' advance buys and the new, higher prices, Haylock stated.

In a survey of exhibitors taken at the close of the show, an increase in orders reflected higher prices and a gain in units, as well, Haylock said.

The survey -- done by the Canadian Fur Trade Development Institute, which manages the show and is a unit of the Fur Council -- put orders booked at about $80 million (or $110 million Canadian), a 20 percent gain from last year.

The number of exhibitors was up significantly -- 200 versus 135 -- and the 5,658 registered buyers who attended the show was a 20 percent improvement. About 35 of the 200 exhibitors were from the U.S.

The increased numbers reflected a broadening scope for the show, putting more emphasis than before on outerwear generally, both in fur-trim numbers and non-fur pieces, a show spokeswoman noted. One of the themes of the show was the integration of fur into ready-to-wear collections.

The event was highlighted by a series of fashion shows, led by an opening night gala with looks from 28 fur designers and manufacturers such as Zuki, Ingrid Klahn for Amsel International, Theo for Furko Canada, Christian Dior for Birger Christensen, Hana K, Grosvenor Canada, Gem Furs, Damselle and Paula Lishman International.

It also included a segment by Saga Furs of Scandinavia, which showed its three-part collection of pieces aimed at inspiring designers and manufacturers and carrying a strong Native American influence. The Ethnic Light group designed by Montreal designer Veronique Miljkovitch featured pearl-colored Saga mink to trim a poncho.

During this show, the winners of the 1994 Canada Fur & Fashion Design Competition were announced, with Montreal rtw designer Angela Bucaro taking first prize, including $8,000 in cash. She was recognized for her designs incorporating fur into her fall rtw collection.

Another headline show was staged by Italian fur designer Giuliana Teso. According to Leonard Gorski, owner of furs by Leonard Gorski, here, the sales representative for Teso in North America, Teso spent close to $200,000 to fly in a production crew of 15 from Italy to help coordinate a fashion show that offered more than 100 furs.

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