THAT WARM, FUZZY FEELING
RETAILERS HOPE THAT FUR ACCESSORIES WILL GIVE CUSTOMERS A MUCH-NEEDED TASTE OF FRIVOLITY IN A FLAGGING ECONOMY.
Byline: Wendy Hessen
Retailers who began a dalliance with fur accessories last year expect the segment to heat up through fall and turn into a full-blown romance by the holidays.
And it’s not just about the occasional item: Now there will be handbags, scarves, wraps, collars, cuffs, gloves, hats and even muffs on many store selling floors.
“The small sampling we tried last year — fur collars, hair accessories and the tippet — was very exciting, but this year will be about bigger and more expensive pieces,” said Melissa Geiser, accessories buyer at Stanley Korshak in Dallas. “In the climate we’re in, to have a luxury item that can really excite people is so important. There are still customers that aren’t feeling the pinch and they need to see exciting things.”
Sandra Wilson, fashion director for accessories at Neiman Marcus, described fur accessory sell-throughs last year as “excellent, and we anticipate that the interest will be just as strong, if not stronger this year.”
“I think the runways have helped fur tremendously,” added Wilson, crediting designers including Michael Kors, Prada and Valentino with focusing on fur in new, frequently more casual ways. “Fur is an additional touch to a wardrobe. It’s an easy way to have an emotional pickup, but still know you are buying a quality item.”
Henri Bendel is also seeking to capitalize on fur with expanded offerings. Accessories buyer Victoria McMahon-Croce said the store will offer some traditional items such as fox stoles, but described the majority of Bendel’s assortment as “young, funky pieces at reasonable price points. We’ve really been inspired by our designers.”
Adrienne Landau and David Goodman are among the established lines Bendel’s will expand for fall and holiday, Croce said, along with new designers such as Jocelyn and Tian Ma, the latter line discovered during one of the store’s open-call days.
Korshak’s Geiser lauded the casual approach to fur. “So many fur pieces have gotten more casual. If you’re going to spend that much money [on a fur accessory], you better be able to wear it with jeans. Although, of course, you have the option of wearing it to a ball.”
Adrienne Landau, who has had some fur elements in her collection since she started her business 20 years ago, said the heightened demand caught her off guard.
“Fur is really getting a younger audience, which I didn’t realize until I talked to my buyers,” Landau said. “Fur is becoming not so much of a trend, but just another luxury item that you want to have. It’s fun to play with.”
Former retailer and buying office executive Sherry Cassin is relatively new to the business, having started her fur accessories business 1 1/2 years ago.
“The Nineties were driven by high tech materials, and I sensed that there would be a flight to quality and real materials,” said Cassin. “Fur taps into a lot of our senses, and it doesn’t take business away from something else.
“Since some girls perceive that a fur coat is something her mother wears, we want to demystify fur for a new customer. She likes little touches of fur and more than one piece, so we’re making fur for everyday.”
Designer Josie Natori, who recently added a collection of wraps and scarves, many of which have fur trim, echoed Cassin’s sentiments. “We’re not talking about fur coats,” said Natori. “Fur is not so precious or serious anymore, you can wear it anywhere now.” Natori said about 60 percent of her soft accessories have a fur element. “Our signatures are fox fur collars and pashmina wraps with fur trims, and we’re also doing a lot of embroidered cashmere and cashmere knits with mink. We even see lighter fur for spring.”
Texture is a major focus for new designer Jocelyn Gordon, who includes sheared and ridged treatments, ruffled and crocheted looks and grommet-accents in her line. “There has been a complete change in the image of fur. It’s much younger and exciting now,” Gordon said.
Color has been a driving force for designer Cynthia Rose, who often combines furs in such unexpected hues as apricot, aqua, lilac and chartreuse with vintage couture fabrics, which she has collected for over 15 years. Among Rose’s over-the-top looks for holiday are chinchilla stoles, dyed rabbit with a vintage brocade and rhinestone closure and metallic graffiti-printed mink.
Color is also a key component for third-generation furrier David Goodman, whose accessories under the Buonuomo label feature multicolored, patented Twist-i-Fur fox boas, as well as a variety of handbags, mufflers and scarves in mosaic fur patterns.
Some executives said that while color will continue to be strong, demand for a more natural palette is also emerging.
“We’re still offering about a dozen colors, but it’s the caramel, chestnut, saddle and mahogany hues that are gaining in position, and in the long term, I think they will win out,” said Cassin.