No longer relegated to designers of a certain age, the fur industry is relying on a cast of fresh faces, including Peter Som, Chris Benz, Doo-Ri Chung and Zac Posen, to help woo new customers.

Even Emanuel Ungaro’s Esteban Cortazar is trying his hand at fur through a licensing deal with Alixandre Furs. There are also plenty of proven names like Chado Ralph Rucci, Michael Kors, Isaac Mizrahi, Zandra Rhodes, Helen Yarmak, Bill Blass and Carmen Marc Valvo, who injected their own inventiveness into fur.

This story first appeared in the May 21, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Well aware that the “it’s-not-your-mother’s-mink-coat” mind-set will take them far with more trend-oriented women, designers served up ponchos, hoodies, evening jackets and other grab-and-go styles, during last week’s fur market in New York.

Instead of staging a series of fashion shows over the course of a week, which used to be the norm, the Fur Information Council of America let resources like Cassin, Funtastic Furs and Pologeorgis host showroom appointments on designated days. FICA seems to have recognized its runway efforts paled in comparison to the top-notch shows produced by American and European designers. In addition, there has been no shortage of fur in recent ready-to-wear collections — FICA’s executive director Keith Kaplan chronicled 1,500 images of fur on the fall runways of New York, Paris, Milan and London, compared with last year’s tally of 1,100.

Despite a dip in fur retail sales to $1.6 billion last year, designers are seeing an increasing interest in women buying smaller styles as fashion pieces, Kaplan said. Recent mild winters have helped spur innovation such as Cassin’s packable furs, he added.

Not one to be outdone, Isaac Mizrahi, whose furs are made by Goodman Couture, created a coat with 10 types of furs. Others, such as Doo-Ri Chung, the winner of the first Emerging Fur Designer of the Year award for accessories, proved that a mere accent will do you. Benz took home the honors for full fur garment design.

Cortazar’s creations for Emanuel Ungaro include such youthful looks as a sable hoodie and a micro-sheared mink blouson jacket with a shawl collar. “It’s very fluid and easy. Esteban is very smart. He is putting his own stamp on the collection, but at the same time, he is bringing the Ungaro name into what’s important — being young and modern,” said Lawrence Schulman, vice president of Alixandre Furs.

Another relative newcomer to the scene is Kati Stern, who started designing the Venexiana label three years ago. “Fur has been around for eons. And like everything else, it needs fresh eyes,” she said. “It’s an integral part of my collection and I plan to show more and more fur every year.” Peter Som, for his part, welcomes the new medium for his designs. “I love treating fur like I would any fabric — mixing textures, colors, and giving it an airy touch. It’s all about creating romance and elegance. Fur ups the ante a thousand percent.”

To view additional images of the designers’ fur collections, click here.

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