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PARIS — Nevermind global warming: Fur is back in vogue.
Lush, long-haired furs have been omnipresent on runways in New York, Milan and now Paris, where Chanel’s show Tuesday — with a polar bear on the invitation — is expected to feature more fuzzy moments of the faux variety.
Fur’s ferocious return has been met with a largely mute reaction from animal rights activists during the international collections, one exception being a raucous protest outside Jean Paul Gaultier’s show on Saturday.
The accelerating fashion trend — from a run of fur or fur-trimmed outerwear at Oscar de la Renta, Proenza Schouler, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Gucci and Balenciaga to furry footwear aplenty — should keep business humming for Scandinavia’s fur producers.
Kopenhagen Fur, a leading auction house for mink, sold a record-breaking four million pelts during a four-day auction last month, generating around 200 million euros, or $272 million at current exchange. Chinese merchants dominated the sale, reflecting a voracious appetite for fur from Chinese consumers.
“They’re demanding quality furs; China would buy our entire production if it could,” said Torkil Tveter, marketing manager for Oslo Fur Auctions, who estimates China represents around 50 percent of the world’s mink consumption, having this winter cruised into first position ahead of Russia.
Sales in the U.S. and Western Europe are still down, although the cold winter has led to better sales than expected, according to Tveter. He noted mink prices have soared by around 45 percent since September and 46.5 million mink skins were produced in 2009.
Producers cited strong demand for plucked and sheared mink, Swakara, raccoon and fox, especially of the blue and silver varieties. Trade for fur braids trimmings and accessories is booming. “Fox has very good demand as it’s good for trimmings. Long-haired fur is really in fashion,” said Tveter.
Indeed, designers are experimenting with fur as a new, natural material alternative, banishing mothball-scented stereotypes of old. The fur craze has already filtered down to the street, observers said, citing strong interest from the younger generation that has never worn it, including young men.
Nicole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director of Macy’s — who comes from a family of furriers — said she has been “amazed” by the number of young designers fascinated with fur and using it in innovative ways.
“It’s no longer just a pelt. It’s another material to express your creativity,” she said. “The big new thing is mixing fur with wovens. It’s inserted, it’s appliqued, it’s patch-worked.”
Basil Vasilis-Kardasis, a visiting professor at the Royal College of Art in London, said fur is now perceived as just another material, not coat fodder for the blue-rinse set. Vasilis-Kardasis is also creative director of Studio NAFA in Toronto, the creative center for the North American Fur Association, and has developed a luxury fiber made from waste scraps of mink, fox, cashmere and Shetland wool. “You can color fur, print it, weave it, [you name it],” said Vasilis-Kardasis, who runs fur innovation workshops in institutions around Europe.
A fancy red fox, mink and stretched parchment hat presented by bespoke milliner Justin Smith during London Fashion Week for his J Smith Esquire label grew out of one such recent workshop at Finland’s Central Ostrobothnia University of Applied Sciences.
Among other designers venturing into fur is New York-based Thakoon Panichgul, whose show included a patchwork jacket of fox, mink and raccoon. He said his objective was to casualize fur to appeal to a younger clientele, and he was drawn to fur’s textural primitive qualities.
“I wanted to give a rounded, knit texture to fur,” said Panichgul, stressing the provenance of the furs, and the humane treatment of farmed animals, was high priority in his choice of his supplier, Saga Furs.
Michael Holm, design director of Kopenhagen Fur’s workshop, Kopenhagen Studio, observed a strong trend toward “smaller pieces of fur, but lots of it.” Other key new directions include fur and knitwear mélanges, he added, often using part-fur, part-wool yarns.
“Designers are embroidering or stitching fur into knits, mixing a fluffy loose mohair weave, say, with a mink yarn,” said Holm, who noted growing interest for the possibilities of fur from design students, especially in London, a city known for its antifur stance.
“Young designers don’t seem to be afraid of the material. It seems they’re adopting it as any other natural material. They’re asking, ‘What is fur? Where does it come from, and how do I treat it?’ which seems to be an interesting sign — especially in England,” said Holm, who collaborated with 10 up-and-coming Danish designers for Copenhagen Fashion Week early last month. Highlights included hats by Soren Bac, who cuts and hand-colors fur as a hairdresser would human hair.
Meanwhile, Patrick Terzakou, owner and president of Terzakou, one of France’s few remaining fur merchants and manufacturers, confirmed unprecedented interest for summer pelts. The firm recently presented its spring-summer 2011 collection at the ModAmont trade show here.
Terzakou’s 24-year-old son, Jean-Pierre, oversees the firm’s T. Paris brand, which is based on designer collaborations. Alexis Mabille, Josephus Thimister, Requiem and Gripoix have designed lines for fall-winter 2010-11.
Yves Salomon-owned designer fur label Revillon, meanwhile, which recently ended its contract with Peter Dundas, is scouting a new designer.
Young furrier Quentin Veron, who has designed pieces for Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp, confirmed demand for less expensive, smaller and lighter furs with interesting twists. Known for his playful hand-made gothic-flavored pieces (think Cruella de Vil), Veron likes to keep his pieces light while teasing out innovative hairy textures to give 3-D relief.
His latest collection, presented early last week, included a couture coat made from Saga black and gold cross fox and feathers.
According to Christelle Nouviaire, account manager for Lane Crawford at Lambert & Associates in Paris, pricing and a creative edge are a must for designers targeting China, where local competition is tough. “Furs are not expensive in China and they do good stuff locally, they’re not tacky or off-trend at all,” said Nouviaire.
Achieving the season’s furry look without buying the real deal is also possible, meanwhile, with shearling and synthetic alternatives in strong supply. Highlights range from faux fur coats at Topshop Unique to vintage-inspired faux fur animal-pattern coats at Rebecca Taylor.
Yet as many designers adopt fur for fall-winter 2010, there are still brands sticking to a firm antifur policy, including Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Comme des Garçons, while Vivienne Westwood does not use fur or skins from exotic or endangered species.
Averyl Oates, chief buying director at Harvey Nichols, which has maintained an antifur policy for the past 20 years, said the fall collections so far have offered plenty of alternatives, including faux fur at Halston, leather and goat hair coats and jackets at Joseph Altuzarra and printed shearling at Donna Karan.
“The list [of options] is endless,” said Oates. “It’s a way for the store to present the fur message in a kinder way without taking away the fashionability and luxury of the look.”