THE SIZZLE IS BACK

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — This winter’s stormy weather and the public’s ongoing quest for luxury products have helped send fur sales climbing as much as 40 percent.
Pleased with the renewed interest — most notably among younger women — retailers and furriers said they are planning continued double-digit gains for fall. Some furriers claimed their segment was stronger than other areas of outerwear, like wools.
The generally healthy economy has also contributed to the recent growth. In 1995, retail fur sales climbed to $1.2 billion from $1.1 billion the previous year, according to a survey commissioned by the Fur Information Council of America.
In 1995, fourth-quarter retail sales increased by 20 percent..
“Consumers responded to the fact that fur is an incredibly warm outerwear garment,” said Carol Wynne, executive director of FICA. “We know from past experience that when the temperature drops, fur sales increase.”
While U.S. retailers were tallying this year’s increases and planning next year’s business, buyers at fashion shows in Milan last week previewed new fur looks for fall. Anna Molinari, Max Mara, Antonio Fusco and Genny were among the designers who featured real fur on the runways. Mink, rabbit and sable were among the furs used for cuffs, collars, shawls and linings.
To play up the industry’s younger, fashionable image, FICA will hold its second annual Fur Fashion Week May 20-23. At that time, Mohl Furs will introduce its newly licensed Yves Saint Laurent fur collection, which will feature fur-trimmed nylon jackets, mink and sable coats, shearling jackets and fur-lined raincoats, according to Robert Mohl, president.
After hitting what Mohl called “a low point” in the early Nineties, fur has come back this year — especially in the past 10 weeks — due to the return of the quality customer who is purchasing upper-end mink or sable coats, he added.
The entrance of such young designers into the fur game as Byron Lars, who began working with Mohl last year, has also updated the industry’s image and has broadened appeal among baby boomers, he said.
“The reemphasis on fur from designers gives it the fashion OK,” said Mohl, who said his sales gained 25 percent this year.
Revillon, which runs 15 Maximilian fur salons in Bloomingdale’s, has seen sales increase by 30 percent, said Leslie Freund, corporate marketing director.
Shearling coats wholesaling for around $2,000, mink coats at $6,000 and fur-trimmed wool coats at $2,000 were among the best-selling styles.
While record snowfalls here helped sales this winter, the distribution of fur overall in the U.S. is expanding and should lead to further growth, Freund said.
In May, Revillon will unveil a flagship here and another store in Beverly Hills. Three additional sites in California — Century City, Sherman Oaks and Newport Beach — are also planned for this year.
Stanley Schulman, president of Alixandre Furs, said he doesn’t expect a jump in mink skin prices to affect his mink business, which currently accounts for more than 65 percent of the firm’s sales. Retail prices for mink coats are expected to increase by at least 30 percent, he said.
“When business is good, price is not the most important factor,” he said. “People are buying more high-quality furs.”
Alixandre, which makes collections for Valentino, Oscar de la Renta and Yeohlee, said dollar sales are 40 up percent .
Sales for the Yeohlee line, which was introduced last year, have increased the company’s business by 10 percent, he said. This year, Yeohlee’s offerings will be expanded by 50 percent since the line has been so well received at retail, he said.
Unlike previous years, consumers are buying more expensive items, including long sable coats that wholesale for $45,000, Schulman said.
This season, Kakas Furs, a 16,000-square-foot store in Boston, amassed $3 million in sales from Oct. 15 through Feb. 15 — a 40 percent increase in dollar sales compared to the same period the previous year, according to Mary Kakas, president.
Mink coats, shearling lamb coats and storm coats featuring fur linings were the most popular looks. With more women looking for more affordable styles, the average sale at Kakas has decreased from $9,500 in 1988 to $4,000 in 1996, Kakas said. Despite the drop in sales for high-ticket items, the retailer has managed to sell more units, she said. Some of the growth could be attributed to the increase in the number of young women who purchased fur coats, she said. Women under the age of 30, who barely contributed to last year’s business, now account for 20 percent of the total sales, she added.
The retailer substantially increased its advertising in local newspapers and on television to publicize its longest promotion, which ran Nov. 15 through Feb. 15 and offered markdowns ranging from 50 percent to “any reasonable offer.” The event moved out most of the store’s merchandise, Kakas added. Consumers are still looking for fur coats in March even though sales generally level off in late January.
At Somper Furs in Beverly Hills, sales executive Fredric Brenner said dollar sales in January were nearly 35 percent ahead and February sales were up about 25 percent compared with the same months last year.
With retail prices ranging from $1,200 to $3,500, fur-trimmed items such as cashmere capes trimmed with fox for around $2,250 are gaining in popularity, Brenner said. Fur-trimmed pieces now account for 25 percent of the total volume — a 10 percent gain.
With 7/8-length styles most popular, bestsellers included mink at $4,750, sheared mink at $4,750, sheared beaver at $3,750 and sheared nutria at $3,350. Somper plans to offer more beaver, nutria and muskrat since the cost of mink skins has risen by at least 20 percent.
Mink coats currently account for at least 60 percent of the store’s business, Brenner said.
That ratio might change depending on how consumers react to the new prices, said Brenner: “We won’t jack up our prices until we buy new inventory.”

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