By  on March 12, 2002

NEW YORK -- Furriers are jazzing up their fall collections with fur-trimmed sportswear and ready-to-wear.

This winter's unseasonably warm weather isn't the only reason manufacturers are turning more to items than overcoats. Women are looking for distinctive pieces they can wear more on an everyday basis.

Fifth-generation furrier Gilles Mendel, owner of J. Mendel, said: "Fur is not something you just take out for the coldest day of the year anymore. Fur has become an accent of luxury rather than a necessity. It's going back to the old days of being the most prestigious material."

More furriers are branching out into fur-trimmed sportswear and are exhibiting at sportswear-focused trade shows to attract independent specialty stores in major markets, an area many have not pursued in the past, said Keith Kaplan, executive director of the Fur Information Council. David Goodman for Buonuomo, Tendler, Custom Furs, CPL and Fur Fusion were among the first-timers at the Fashion Coterie show last month that were pleased with the interest at the show.

"A lot of retailers have outerwear within their offerings, but are looking for unique and interesting pieces," Kaplan said.

Goldin Feldman, the 90-year-old furrier that produces coats under the Anne Dee Goldin label, is branching out for fall with Fur Fusion, a 55-piece group featuring reversible coats. Geared for high-end specialty stores -- not specifically coat departments in department stores -- the line wholesales from $350 to $2,495, said Anne Dee Goldin, president of Goldin Feldman. There are poplin coats that reverse to melton wool with fur trim, and a silk style that reverses to cashmere with fur borders. Goldin aims to open the line in 50 to 75 stores.

Buonuomo, an upscale fur-trimmed sportswear line owned by Gus Goodman, is forging ahead with more trunk shows and expects sales to climb by at least 20 percent, said David Goodman, the line's designer. His trunk shows get going next month and 20 have already been scheduled.

Fur-trimmed cashmere coats and cardigans should continue to be "the backbone of the business," because they pack well for travel and are easy to wear, he said. Goodman also pitches in designing outerwear for the Gus Goodman line, an 84-year-old family business.For the 2002-2003 season, Buonuomo's sales should climb to $1.5 million from $500,000 in 1999, Goodman said. For fall, mores stores are looking to pick up the collection, even though some don't yet know where to place it.

In the next year, Mendel expects sales of his fur-trimmed rtw to eclipse sales of fur outerwear due to more versatility. Women are also favoring lightweight styles that are not as cumbersome as full-length coats, with Mendel's flat fur styles like Russian broadtail and goat jackets, as well as mink coats sheared to look like corduroy, gaining fans.

Mendel, who runs a Madison Avenue store, a shop at Bergdorf Goodman and three shops in Hong Kong and Japan, will start selling wholesale to a few select accounts this fall. His collection is now available on a limited basis at Neiman Marcus on the West Coast.

Furrier Dennis Basso said everyday styles like a fur-trimmed jean jacket and knitted mink shawls have drummed up interest in his label among women in their 20s and 30s. While not created with the more cost-conscious customer in mind, these types of items should continue to be important next year, he said.

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