DALLAS — Retail fur prices are expected to climb by at least 15 percent this year, but stores don’t expect a slowdown in business.
Many are planning strong double-digit gains, using brightly colored furs, fox, mink, rabbit and fur-trimmed accessories to entice consumers.
“Retail prices will have to rise because fur prices were way up at the auctions where manufacturers buy the pelts — anywhere from 15 to 35 percent depending on the fur and color,” said Steve Blatt, owner of seven-unit Searle, in New York.
“Minks will have the biggest price increase. The good news is that furs just keep getting stronger at retail. I’m planning gains of 50 percent this year. We’re increasing our inventory and producing more furs for our own label. We ran out of furs last season.”
Searle kicks off the fur season in August with a range of styles in order to gauge consumer interest.
“We normally bring in the entire line early and let shoppers tell us where their minds are. Then we can adjust our merchandising approach for the rest of the season,” Blatt said. “One of the biggest trends this year is definitely going to be fox, which continues to get stronger each year due to its sporty and versatile nature. Designers are using fox as a trim on down coats and shearlings.”
Terry Thornton, divisional merchandise manager at 34-unit Neiman Marcus, said more designers are using fur in their collections, with fur accessories one of the strongest trends.
“If the European runways were any indication, more designers are going to be working in fur than ever before,” Thornton said. “We saw lots of fur in Italy, including fur trims, stoles, shrugs and neck pieces. It bodes well for many different areas in retail.”
As for trends, Thornton expects strong interest in brightly colored fox furs, short cropped jackets, strollers and traditional longer coats.
Tres Mariposas, a women’s specialty store in El Paso, has a healthy fur business with affluent Mexican women who live across the border in Juarez, said Bobbie Baldridge, buyer.
“Women buy furs for fashion, not for warmth. It just doesn’t get that cold in this part of the country,” Baldridge said. “So, we’re expecting to do well with reversible furs, rabbit-trimmed capes, fox-trimmed cashmere, chinchilla and mink. With all the fashion designers trimming apparel with fur and all the bright colors, furs are becoming important accessories for many women’s wardrobes.”
Fur sales are projected to increase at least 10 percent at Tres Mariposas this year, said Baldridge, adding that the store rang up $30,000 in fur sales last month.
“We’re off to an incredible start, when women begin buying furs in March,” she said, citing Bisange, Blum & Fink, Miller & Berkowitz, Adrienne Landau, Trilogy, Cassin and Anne Dee Goldin as top brands.
Bob Rooke, owner of Gavrel Furs, a 50-year-old specialty store in Fort Worth, said sales were up 15 percent last year and are expected to climb even higher in 2004.
“The business starts earlier and earlier — this year we sold lots of coats in February,” Rooke said. “Women are seeing fur in all the fashion magazines, both as coats and as an accessory or trim, and they’re also realizing that fur is much more affordable. The stigma is long gone that furs are just for the rich.”
Rooke said sheared furs, mink, fox-trimmed cashmere, fitted-waist jackets, strollers and colors such as ice blue, pink and key lime will help drive business this year.
“We sell furs on a regional basis from our store and across the U.S. and globally on our Web site,” he said. “Our best-selling line is Bella Bicchi.”
Joel Kaye, whose family owns Morris Kaye & Sons, a retail and wholesale fur business in Dallas, said sales are up 10 percent for the first quarter of 2004 after gaining 25 percent last year.
“Last year was the best year in our company’s history,” said Kaye. “We’ve gone with the trends and also now carry a full line of leather and fur-trimmed denim accessories. This year, I’m expecting fox to be one of the most popular furs, especially since mink prices have risen so much.”
— Rusty Williamson