NEW YORK — "We’ve got weather on our side this year," said Keith Kaplan, executive director of the Fur Information Council of America, regarding the cold temperatures across the East Coast that have sparked fur sales this holiday season.

Meanwhile, fur retailers across the country concurred that the category has performed well thanks to designers who use fur for trims, linings and accessories, rather than the sometimes-socially challenged traditional full-length mink — even though they said that, too, has sold well.

In addition, shearling coats continue to be in top form, as are fur-lined coats and coyote-trimmed hooded parkas with a more casual feel, retailers reported.

"In 1985, there were 42 designers working in fur," said Kaplan of FICA, the industry’s public relations vehicle. "Now, we have close to 400 who [use fur in their collections]. The increase comes from new techniques that make fur much lighter in weight, but just as durable and warm. The way designers are dyeing, cutting and trimming fur makes it just like any other fabric category."

According to FICA, fur sales in 2001 were $1.53 billion and the group expects that number to increase by roughly 8 to 10 percent for 2002.

It’s been a hot season for fur at Neiman Marcus, where sales in the category saw double-digit increases, according to Terry Thornton, associate divisional merchandise manager.

"We’re really doing very well in the fur division, which is a pleasant surprise for me," Thornton said. "You never know after 9/11, but it’s rebounded, driven by designer product that’s not conservative or basic. It’s about novelty, grooved and textured applications and color. It’s not about a classic mink coat."

Neiman’s top three collections that include fur are Guiliana Teso, Chado Ralph Rucci and Michael Kors. Feminine styles by Zandra Rhodes have also done well and J. Mendel trunk shows have been successful.

"Retail sales are [solid]," said Carol Kaye, who manages the Morris Kaye & Sons fur store in San Antonio. "Sales are up 40 to 50 percent and this is our third really strong year. We’re selling basic mink coats, but our clients are yearning for different stuff. I just sold a customer her eighth fur coat in the last three months and I’m in San Antonio."A wide variety of looks are moving, but the accent has been on novelty sheared mink, including a lime car coat with matching fox collar and cuffs. Other highlights include a burgundy coat that reverses as an iridescent raincoat and sheared mink coats trimmed with chinchilla or sable. The store has also seen action in knitted fur vests and coats with sleeves that zip out, as well as styles with collars and cuffs.

In California, temperate weather often hampers fur from flying off the shelves, but the region’s appetite for fashion shouldn’t be underestimated.

"Younger clients here are really loving it," said Jeffrey Lehman, vice president of Beverly Hills furrier Edwards Lowell.

The under-40 set is snapping up shearlings, mink coats, chinchilla jackets and a lot of denim with fur trim or liners at the 60-year-old retailer.

"Fur has really made a comeback," Lehman said, noting the popularity of a warmer-climate item — a knitted sweater with interwoven mink pelts. "That [item] has given us a good shot in the arm."

Younger customers are also showing interest in fur coats, detail and trim at another Beverly Hills furrier, David Appel Furs, where woven sheared mink wraps and sweaters are emerging as standouts.

David Appel, the third-generation owner, said sales of new coats are not as brisk as they were one year ago due to a soft economy. But consumers’ thrifty solution is to recycle fur coats they already own, Appel said.

"Young people who inherit coats are remodeling them," Appel said. "I’m making them into reversible pieces with water-repellent silk on the reverse side. We’re also doing a lot of fur trim on pieces, such as leather and denim jackets. It’s encouraging for the fur business."

Peter Cohen, designer and owner of his namesake store in Los Angeles, believes the fur trend is on a downhill trajectory. Noting he’s done well with rabbit, shearling, patchwork goat fur and lamb — curly or straight — he nonetheless believes the demand has peaked this season.

"They definitely have glamorous appeal, but it’s the sort of garment you need only one of in your closet," Cohen said.In the Parisian stores division of Saks Department Store Group, the overall fur business is up, according to Gregg Kennedy, general merchandise manager for ready-to-wear. In the seven Parisian stores that have fur departments, novelty styles have sold over basics. Kennedy cited examples such as furs with embroidery, fringe and trims, as well as sheared mink with ruffled trim.

While retailers said luxury pieces with a casual feel, such as shearling, sold well this holiday season, mink-lined denim jackets have been a popular trend in the past couple years. That’s led to them being brought out to more visible locations at department stores, such as on the ground floor at Saks in New York and at retailers not typically known for selling fur, like Boyd’s of Madison Avenue Department Store, also in New York.

Further up Madison at Denimaxx, shearling legwarmers are the top seller at $795 retail, according to president Dennis Bason, who also noted that overall volume is up 15 percent from last year. Denimaxx, which sells coats from $2,395 to $3,395, also has stores in Aspen and Coral Gables, Fla. Earth tones such as vicuna, rust, brick and whiskey are key.

He noted that shearlings are more acceptable to people concerned with the way furs are made, since they are a by-product in the food chain and don’t come from animals raised just for their fur.

"It’s more friendly than a mink coat, less bulky, just as warm, comes in different colors and is a little less expensive," Bason said.

At James Davis, a 12,000-square-foot bridge and designer specialty store in Memphis, sales of fur and fur-trimmed pieces have exceeded expectations, according to K.K. Weinberg, co-owner.

"This has been our best year ever," Weinberg said. "We’ve added more product this season and took a stand on novelty fur pieces, which has paid off."

Weinberg said he sold 10 Cassin rabbit jackets since October for $2,600 apiece. Other bestsellers include shearling vests and coats from Cole Hahn and three-quarter and full-length coats from Robert Talbot. Weinberg said he sold 28 Talbot jackets in a recent trunk show, each priced around $2,100.Meanwhile, at 54-year-old Douglas Fur Co., a 5,500-square-foot fur specialty store in Charlotte, N.C., business was up over last year, especially since cooler weather has boosted sales. Consumers exposed to fur through the growing editorial coverage in fashion magazines has also helped generate interest, according to Paul Gordon, president.

"Magazines have promoted fur in coats, collars, cuffs and trims, and that’s been building during the past several years," said Gordon, who noted that the store carries lines from designers such as Arnold Scaasi, Anne Klein and Mary McFadden.

Basics and classic styles, including full-length mink coats, always sell well in the South, said Gordon. However, fashion items, including color and combinations of fur treatments below the $3,000 price range, have also appealed to consumers. Fur-trimmed denim jackets have sold in the hundreds, Gordon said, and sheared mink jackets and strollers have also been strong.

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