Specialty Stores Banking on Lift From Novelty Furs

It was all over the runways, but will fur fly at retail this fall?

with contributions from Elizabeth Thurman
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It was all over the runways, but will fur fly at retail this fall?

With creative new treatments, designers are more than ever transforming fur into a fashion trend with knitted mink shawls, fox-trimmed hoodies, sable-bordered cocktail dresses, appliqués and plenty of other novelty styles.

At the recent European shows, fur was used to the hilt, from glamorous jackets and coats to fur trims on dresses and sportswear used in creative new applications. Frida Giannini, in her Gucci collection, used touches of fur and studs to create a bohemian/rock 'n' roll hybrid look. Roberto Cavalli's fur-trimmed waistcoats and shearling coats were done up in exotic floral embroideries the colors of stained glass, Giorgio Armani created fur-trimmed shrunken leather jackets and dramatic shearling coats. Junya Watanabe used fur trim for bib dresses and John Galliano showed glamorous fur jackets in a variety of lengths.

But while many specialty stores are wholeheartedly embracing the fur trend, others are less enthusiastic, citing fur as controversial, impractical and downright expensive in a time of economic weakness, climate change and animal activist protests. As a possible indicator of the hot-button nature of the topic, department and specialty stores, including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Macy's and Nordstrom, declined interviews despite repeated requests.

Specialty stores were more open to comment. Scott Malouf, owner of Malouf's, a Lubbock, Tex., specialty store, said the under-40 crowd is embracing fur as fashion.

"It's not her mother or grandmother's fur, but it's very fun and of-the-moment," he said. "The younger generation does not have the politically correct brainwashing that the Baby Boomers underwent in the early Nineties. They look at it with a fresh attitude. They are more driven by who's wearing it and what the label is."

For fall, he will add more lightweight, knitted and shearling fashion sweaters and unconstructed jackets, capes and wraps, some in color, within Etro, Lafayette 148 and other ready-to-wear collections.

Prices from $1,500 to $4,000 are "the sweet spot," he said. Older customers want more sportswear-inspired fur pieces that work with casual clothing, for everyday luxury, Malouf said. While the mild climate doesn't deter customers' interest in fur, it does make it imperative to concentrate on unique items that inspire customers to buy based on desire rather than need, said Malouf.
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