NEW YORK — The waiters’ paint-splattered smocks said it all.
“The Art of Fur,” the theme of the Fur Information Council of America’s Fur Fashion 2004 on Tuesday night at the Puck Building here, where the aforementioned waiters were working, was open to interpretation.
Artful images from Monet, Basquiat, Man Ray, M.C. Escher and others served as a backdrop, but how they related to the furs was anyone’s guess. A Royal Chie bikini top and miniskirt were set against a scene from Monet’s water lilies and gardens in Giverny.
Nevertheless, the standing-room-only crowd reacted strongly to the show’s seemingly far-reaching hues, but not always favorably. When a model strutted down the runway in a patterned long coat, one onlooker offered, “That looks like my couch.” For better or worse, attendees had much to say about fur, which is enjoying a lively run, thanks in part to a few new players.
Teetering on stilettos and dressed in a pink strapless minidress, rap artist Foxy Brown said five furriers courted her before she gave the go-ahead to the Foxy Brown Collection by Alexis & Gianni. Beginning in August, 100 doors are expected to carry the line. A self-described “fashion freak” since the age of 14, Brown said a violet chinchilla is her signature piece, but ermine and sable run a close second and third, respectively. Her nontraditional take on fur underlines the movement underfoot in the industry. “I’d rather wear fur with jeans and look exquisite,” she explained.
Look for Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé Knowles and Oprah, along with some of Brown’s friends in college, to be the first to wear her coats. “I didn’t want to do a typical rap line. I wanted to do something so 60-year-old men could buy for their wives or mistresses, and rap stars could buy and everyday customers….We’re going to win this fur thing,” said Brown, punching her arm in the air for effect. “We’re taking over.”
Considering the fact that recording artist Ron Isley wears fur in every music video he appears in, his moonlighting as a furrier is not such a stretch. After all, The Isley Brothers started wearing fur on their album covers in the late Seventies. Tendler Furs expects Isley’s Mr. Biggs fur collection, which will retail from $800 to $15,000, to generate about $2 million in wholesale volume, said Larry Tendler, chief executive officer.
“Fans got used to it and came to expect it,” Isley said. “I like fur just for high fashion to play the character of Mr. Biggs. It’s the best of everything — big mansions, racehorses, jewelry, pretty women. We have them all.”
Denzel Washington, R. Kelly and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs have placed orders with Isley as if he’s a store, Isley said. (Even though he recently released “Here I Am” with Burt Bacharach, Isley is still trying to get him to wear the furs.)
“Puffy was a big fan [of the Isley Brothers]. He saw what we did. We came first,” Isley said. “He and Russell [Simmons] told me, ‘You’re going to do well. You’re going to do better than us.’ We made them want to wear the bling-bling, this, that and the other.”
For Marco Teso, the designer of the Giuliana Teso and its Byte fur collections, the focus is on “disco kinds of things,” such as lightweight mink, fox and rabbit, along with colorful items that appeal to younger shoppers. “I’m focusing on knitting and shorter things to wear with jeans — not old-fashioned furs,” he said.
Showing the Byte collection in FICA’s show is important for the company’s U.S. business, which now accounts for 35 percent of all sales, Teso said. Playing up the more spirited side of the business has helped push annual sales ahead by 20 percent in the past year, he said.
“I always pay attention to price so that nothing is too expensive,” said Teso, referring to Byte’s $400 to $3,500 wholesale price range.
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, also was pitching affordable options. “Fur is an important fashion statement, whether it’s fur trim, a whole piece or a coat. It’s almost the one must-have for fall, but it should be determined by a person’s lifestyle and pocketbook. There are wonderful novelties that look marvelous.”
Carmen Marc Valvo agreed. “For me, it’s almost an accessory for what I do. I feel like the new kid on the block with a few stoles and shrugs,” he said. “But the response has been so phenomenal. It’s gotten kind of crazy.”
Zang Toi is hoping the furs borrowed for Jennifer Lopez’s and Jane Fonda’s new flick, “Monster-in-Law,” will create a bit of a frenzy. Dressed in a plaid suit with shorts and holding a silver fox scarf, the designer said, “Fur is the ultimate element that gives the look of glamour. It’s also practical and keeps you really warm in the winter.”
— Rosemary Feitelberg