NEW YORK -- Heartened by a plus season last year, retailers turned out last week for fall fur week here with an upbeat attitude. Many expect sales increases of as much as 25 percent for the upcoming fall and winter selling season.

"We're seeing a renaissance in fashion in the fur industry in terms of styling and looks," noted Robert Meltzer, general merchandise manager at the largest furrier in the U.S., Evans Inc., Chicago, which showcases Arnold Scaasi, Nina Ricci and Perry Ellis. "The look is very voluptuous with big collars, directional lines and lots of color."

"There's definitely light at the end of the tunnel, and we are very optimistic," said Sid Benjamin, chairman and chief operating officer at Flemington Furs in Flemington, N.J.

The retailer, which showcases Arnold Scaasi furs, posted a 12.5 percent sales gain in 1993 over the previous year. Benjamin said he is looking to at least duplicate that increase.

After being stung by a world recession and by aggressive protests launched by anti-fur activists, the fur industry, which collapsed in 1987 along with the stock market, is on the rebound. 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.

"The economy is improving, and this past winter's cold weather has definitely helped," said a FICA spokeswoman, expressing optimism for the upcoming season.

As for prices, some retailers were greeting the rising costs of mink pelts in a positive manner, stating that customers will again be viewing furs as more of an investment. The industry is expecting the average price for mink pelts to reach about $32.50 for fall, a 30 percent gain over last year.

Some of the looks that retailers say will drive the business include:

  • Fresh earth tone hues, such as hunter green and light brown.
  • Sheared furs in beaver and mink.
  • Fur-trimmed cloth coats.
  • Skin-on-skin reversible furs.
  • The 52-inch fur coat will dominate, with the 38-inch fur as the novelty item.
"I see the black mink coat as becoming more important, because it plays into the current mindset that the fur coat is more of a luxury item," said Maria A. Catalanotti, vice president, retail, of Image Inc., Lyndhurst, N.J., operator of the five-unit Fur Vault chain.The stores, which do a big business in Mary McFadden, offer beaver coats at $1,995 and sable at $150,000. Catalanotti, who is expecting a 15 percent sales increase for fall, said she is also investing in the 38-inch coats and skin-on-skin reversible furs.

Stanley Schwartz, fur buyer at Abraham & Straus, which stocks Adolfo, Perry Ellis and Scaasi furs, noted that he is very bullish on the Russian military or Cossack look in furs.

"There's a lot of newness out there, especially the twisted furs and interesting colors like marble green," said Ralph Romberg, vice president, divisional merchandise at Neiman Marcus, Dallas, whose fur salons are stocked with such designer labels as Valentino, Oscar de la Renta and Christian Dior.

"The fur business happens to be great, and we're very optimistic about fall," he noted. "One thing that drives it is the preponderance of fur trims in ready-to-wear. Historically, whenever the fake fur business gets good, the fur business has been good."

"The long length is dominant, with perhaps a little bit more shaping," noted Benjamin of Flemington Fur. "But there's also going to be a lot of interest in capes and ponchos."

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