By and  on June 21, 2006

NEW YORK — Still trying to convey a more cohesive and updated image among furriers, the Fur Information Council of America held Fur fashion week in a variety of showrooms last week.

The four-day event centered on showroom appointments instead of a group runway show — the preferred venue in recent years. The 10 companies that signed up for this year’s edition, which was billed as “An Intimate Affair with Fur,” opted for still-life displays or informal modeling, to various degrees of sophistication and success. That casual approach mirrored the week’s most popular styles — lightweight pieces, especially jackets that can be easily thrown on — and, unlike traditional long mink coats, aren’t limited to frigid winter days.

Carmen Marc Valvo, Adrienne Landau, Jerry Sorbara and Jekel of Paris, a newcomer being sold at The Global Fur Group, showed some of the more stylish pieces. FICA’s executive director, Keith Kaplan, said, “Smaller pieces — capelets, short cropped jackets and boleros — did very well. Versatility was a key factor. Women are looking for something that would be great to wear with a pair of jeans walking down the street and something they can wear over an evening gown. Accessories, especially scarves and hats, were also popular. They provide luxury for not a lot of money.”

That’s just the type of alternative sale the industry is looking for. Increased demand for fur from consumers in Russia and China has led to higher prices for all types of fur skins, Kaplan said. Another factor is that more ready-to-wear designers are using fur for outerwear and trim.

Last winter’s unseasonably warm temperatures took a toll on the fur business. Retail sales for 2005, which are still being compiled, are expected to be off compared with the $1.8 billion generated in 2004, Kaplan said. That figure includes independent fur stores and leased salons in department stores.

To try to jazz up the assortments in those stores, Kaplan is enthusiastic about attracting younger designers to the business. “Most of the craftsmen in the back rooms are in their 60s. There is a tremendous opportunity for these kids. All this innovation has resulted in creative possibilities that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s almost as though as an industry we’d forgotten a generation.”This year the International Fur Trade Federation attracted 35 students to its annual design competition, compared with seven last year, Kaplan said. Offering more fur-related courses and seminars is making fur design more popular in design schools, said Kaplan. He added that Parsons The New School for Design now has a full fur workroom for students.

The dominance of family-owned fur businesses even played a hand in his reaction to being named Fur New York’s Man of the Year. “This is really heartwarming. It’s a sign of acceptance in an industry that has been family-based for so long.” he said.

The Global Fur Group’s director, Christina Nacos, is testimony to that. Last week she greeted guests in the company’s newly opened showroom at 150 West 30th Street, while her father, Thomas, the company’s founder, looked on approvingly. In the past year or so, he has been trying to stay in the background more to let his daughter run the showroom, he said. The Global Fur Group now houses Zuki International and Natural Furs International, the maker of Feraud and Krio.

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