LUXURY FEVER FEEDS FURS
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — Riding the luxury wave, furriers are reporting another upbeat fall/winter season.
Despite a steep rise of around 40 percent in mink pelt prices, retailers said mink fur sales surged along with improved business for high-end sable and luxury pieces. Swing coats and strollers, brightly colored furs and fur-lined storm coats were also top sellers this season.
Stores said minks accounted for 50 to 60 percent of overall fur sales.
Fur merchants and vendors noted that the thriving stock market of 1996 and a healthy economy correlated with an increased demand for luxury goods. In addition, fur customers are generally in a high-income bracket and therefore less susceptible to sticker shock.
Final figures won’t be available until mid-March, once the outerwear season officially concludes, but several furriers estimated they have seen a second year of double-digit sales growth. Many retailers and manufacturers noted that increased coverage of furs in fashion magazines has fueled consumer awareness.
Overall sales could reach $1.3 billion for 1996-97, according to the Fur Information Council of America. While a $1.3 billion sales year would be fur’s biggest of the Nineties, the business is still far below the $2 billion mark of a decade ago.
A spokeswoman for FICA expects the industry to see a repeat of last year’s 10 percent gain once the figures are tallied, based on early feedback from furriers and Southwick Associates, the Alexandria, Va., consulting firm that monitors sales for FICA.
Much of the growth is attributable to sales of higher-priced luxury coats. Somper Furs of Beverly Hills, for example, sold six sables, including two golden sables, that retail for $45,000 and higher. For each of the six years prior, Somper sold only one sable. Somper has seen a 20 percent gain so far.
“My husband had to work the floor, which he really doesn’t like to do, because we had so much traffic,” said Wanda Presburger, president. “This year, it’s almost as if [consumers] were looking for an investment.”
Presburger said clients who entered her store acknowledged the fashion coverage, declaring that fur was back.
“You look at them and you hear yourself talking,” she said, underlining the successful campaign of FICA and the fur industry to garner positive talk about the industry.
Better mink coats sold well at $8,500 to $10,000 at Somper, with the seven-eighths-length coat the season’s hot seller.
“Last year, the length was 36 inches. This year, the minimum was 39 inches. They hit just above the knee or mid-knee,” Presburger said, adding that Somper had seen increased traffic from male clients as well, snapping up 54-inch ranch mink coats at $8,000 and leather jackets lined in mink at $4,000.
Lawrence Schulman, vice president at Alixandre Furs here, said sable was an extremely strong seller at Neiman Marcus and other larger stores that carry Alixandre’s designs from Valentino, Oscar de la Renta and Yeohlee. Schulman said sales rose by 50 percent to 85 units of sable, mostly golden and dark Russian, wholesaling at $11,000 to $100,000.
“The fashion industry has embraced fur in a big way. That sends a message to the consumer that fur is fashionable,” said Bill Ribnick, owner of Ribnick Furs in Minneapolis, which is on track for a 12 percent gain.
Ribnick sold 75 black minks patterned with red, green, purple or blue, one of the hottest items this season, he said.
“Mink prices are still less than they were 10 years ago. People don’t shop mink one year to the next. They don’t notice the price change anyhow, so it doesn’t seem to be a shock to them,” Ribnick said.
Leslie Freund, corporate marketing director for Revillon in New York, which manages 17 Maximilian salons for Bloomingdale’s throughout the country, said as a result of the pelt increase, “we did see, in the average ticket price, a definite increase.”
“But there was not a price sensitivity on the customer’s part,” she said.
Revillon expects to generate a 25 percent sales gain for the season, adjusted from a 40 percent prediction the company had quoted until December, when sales slowed due to a warm spell.
Mink accounted for 50 percent of sales at the Fur Salons at Saks Fifth Avenue, managed by Birger Christensen. Business exceeded projections by a double-digit percentage in its first year there, regardless of the mink price hike.
“If you’re paying $13,000 to $18,000 for a fur, it was not a problem,” said Chris Spyropoulos, president.
Birger Christensen has also maintained salons at Holt Renfrew in Canada for the past four years, and the firm expects the season will end 14 percent ahead there.
Ruth Ferber, president of Jacques Ferber Furs in Philadelphia, is projecting a 10 percent sales gain, with high demand for mink and colored furs.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that customers have not balked at the price points,” she said.
Ferber also had success with knit beaver and knit mink Paula Lishman coats that are similar to sweater jackets, at $3,200 to $4,500 for a short coat in blush beige to black multicolored.
The mink pelt price hikes did have a negative impact in mass market business, Birger Christensen’s Spyropoulos said. Caravan or hotel shows were unable to absorb much of the cost of mink and raised retail prices by as much as 60 percent. This resulted in a lower-market product that is priced comparatively with those sold in better stores and high-end salons.
“The smaller, more commercial product is having a distinct problem, seeing prices rise from $5,000 to $8,000 retail,” Schulman said. “The consumers there don’t understand and can’t appreciate why the price is increasing. A boom for finer stores is that they haven’t seen many caravan sales this year, because the mink sales are not doing well there.”
Evans Fur Co. in Chicago has suffered from the pelt price increase.
“We’ll be down a little,” said Patrick Regan, president and ceo of the publicly traded company, although he would not be more specific. Mink prices at auction averaged $53 per pelt over the past year, compared to $33 the previous year.
“That shows up in the product the very same year,” Regan said, adding that Evans raised the price of its commercial minks from $2,000 to at least $3,800 at retail.
Compounding this, commercial consumers who typically shop for furs as a functional garment for warmth, rather than as a fashion piece, did not have the credit capacity to handle the price increase. Instances of personal debt and bankruptcy are at record levels, Regan said.
The season also included heightened sales of reversible storm coats. Somper sold 12 mink units averaging $8,500 and six sheared nutria coats at $4,000. The shop also enjoyed many refurbishment orders to shear older mink coats into raincoat linings, and a wave of sales in cashmere capes.
“I made myself a promise that I would become the cashmere cape queen of this industry. I have a feeling I’m well on the way,” Presburger said, citing more than 120 cape sales at about $2,000 this season. The capes are trimmed with either fox or sheared mink in a flowered trim.
“If a woman spends $6,000 to $10,000 on a mink coat, then she can spend another $2,000 on a cape,” Presburger said.
At Alixandre, a Valentino sable jacket with cardigan neckline featured exclusively at Neiman Marcus was a hot seller at retail, moving 35 to 45 units. Oscar de la Renta and Yeohlee notch-collar wrap coats in white mink, wild mink or dark khaki beaver also combined to sell 30 units at retail.
Slimmer silhouettes as well as sheared and fur-trimmed jackets sold well at Revillon. Spring fabrics combined with luxury furs are selling as everyday looks to wear with “jeans, a dress or whatever,” Freund said.
She added that a charcoal gray, nylon and silk polyamide waterproof belted jacket trimmed with natural chinchilla was a mover for Revillon’s salons, launched this year in New York, Chicago, Palm Beach, Fla., Beverly Hills and at Saks Jandel in Washington. A sheared mink ascot was a hot seller in the resort locations where accessories drove sales.
Marc Jacobs’s one-of-a-kind white mink stole sold at Maximilian at Bloomingdale’s for $6,500.
“Fendi in general did well from shearling to mink,” Freund added.