By  on March 22, 1994

NEW YORK -- While fur sales have been showing a revival over the past two years, more and more furriers have turned to making wool, precious fiber, fake fur coats and real fur trims to keep business perking in a volatile market.

As reported, fur sales rose 9 percent last year, the second consecutive yearly gain, following a 10 percent hike in 1992, according to surveys of fur retailers done for the Fur Information Council of America. Still, fur manufacturers say diversifying collections and expanding into luxury outerwear and fur-trim merchandise has been proving an effective way to increase volume and distribution.

Karl Lagerfeld's mixing of ersatz fur with the real thing in his signature line and the Chanel and Fendi collections he designs caused a stir this month, but New York furrier David Leinoff has been mixing the two under his banner "An Original Furgery" for the past four years.

Leinoff, who is owner and designer of the fur label Davellin, said he started his foray into fake furs because "it was a nice added line to our fur business."

"It's interesting to me that Karl Lagerfeld and other designers are mixing fakes with fur now," he said.

Each season the line features eight different styles that use acetate pile fabric, sometimes combined with real fur trim and wholesaling for $100 to $450.

For fall, key looks include a two-tier green, black and brown patterned princess coat in the pile with fox collar and cuffs, another pile coat trimmed with Lapland sheep and a front flap coat, all in the pile fabric.

"We found that fur patterns adapt to the fakes and vice versa," said Leinoff. "We can do models in fake fur and interpret them in real fur."

Leinoff said that his fake fur line has not affected his original fur collection.

"They are completely different markets," he said. "One doesn't infringe upon the other. People who want a fur will want a fur, and people who want a fake will buy a fake."

Leinoff said that his Furgery line constitutes about 40 percent of his overall volume. He also noted that his fur business last year increased 25 percent over the previous year.Andre Bisang, who with his wife, Lisa, expanded their fur collection to include luxury outerwear for the Tepper Collection four years ago, said the expansion into cloth and fur trims does not reflect poorly on the fur collection.

"It is treated as separate to our fur business," he said. "It has, if anything, brought more attention to our label. It brings our label into more doors and increases our possibilities. Fur has its limits. Cloth has many more possibilities."

Bisang said that he and his wife apply fur techniques to their cloth collections, essentially treating fabric like fur. The result, besides innovative design, is that cloth and fur trims now constitute 40 percent of the collection.

Jeff Tepper, president of the Tepper Collection, said that the Bisangs' collection did between $1.5 million and $2 million last year. The company's overall volume was $3.5 million.

The Swiss-based Bisangs now design three groups of cloth coats. A moderate group sold under the Bisang Switzerland label is manufactured in Italian merino wool and a cashmere and wool blend and wholesales for $195 to $450. A designer group using luxury fibers, such as alpaca, camel hair and Loro Piana cashmere, is priced from $575 to $1,500 and sold under the label Bisang Couture Switzerland. A fur-trimmed group, which wholesales at $895 to around $15,000, is sold under the Bisang Fourrure. All merchandise is manufactured here.

The first expansion into cloth increased volume by 10 percent, according to Bisang, and in the past three years it has increased annually by 50 percent. Bisang said he expects future growth to continue, but at a 30 percent rate.

The collection for this fall includes a slim narrow group in cashmere accessorized with special buttons, an unlined group that will be used as coats as well as combined with other coats for a layering effect in cashmere and alpaca and a cashmere group trimmed with velvet mink.

The color scheme features brown prominently, as well as stone and a navy melange with a two-tone quality.

Larger diversity is the main factor furrier Gilles Mendel gives for the premiere -- this May -- of his collection of Loro Piana cashmere and fur-trimmed coats.The collection, a collaboration with Bernard Perris, will come in 25 different styles and retail at his Fifth Avenue salon, J. Mendel, for $1,200 to $3,000 in pure cashmere and for $1,800 to more than $6,000 for fur trims.

Mendel predicts that the initial collection will increase his overall volume next year and fur and fabric combinations will constitute 50 percent of his offering. He declined to give sales figures.

Corniche Furs, which manufactures its own line of fur and fur-trimmed coats as well as those designed by Bob Mackie, is going into a cloth line -- manufactured by C. Meerstein GmbH of Germany -- for fall 1994.

The line, called Cashmere by Corniche, will consist of 50 styles, including men's coats. It includes a cashmere grouping wholesaling for $345 to $600 and a fur-trimmed group using chinchilla, sable, fox, mink and Tibetan lamb priced at $450 to $10,000.

Key looks in the new line include an Italian cashmere trench coat tagged at $670, a black cashmere coat with natural chinchilla collar and cuffs at $1,800 and a natural Russian golden sable tuxedo collar on a cashmere and lambswool coat for $5,595. Coats can be customized by retailers in terms of color, fabric and fur trims.

Stuart Greenberg, owner of Corniche, said he expects first year sales to be $2 million.

"The fur industry is shrinking," said Greenberg. "The smart furriers will go into other things. If you have the space, the ability and know-how, why just make a mink coat? Fashion is the most important thing. A lot of furriers don't know that."

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