As furs go in summer vaults, the industry tallies big gains

Right about now, thousands of fur coats and jackets are coming out of the closets and into the fur storage vaults. It's a record year for Edward Thomas, president of Ram Leather Care, whose 26 plants across the country clean, repair, and store furs.

It's also a record year for the department stores, salons, and furriers who manufacture, design, and remodel fur coats and jackets.

"That nationwide recession seems to have missed the fur industry, thankfully, " notes Robert Harrowe, editor of Fur Weekly. "Retail sales have been booming."

While everyone in the business is pleased, nobody is really sure why -- in such tight economic times -- furs are in such demand. The theories are many.

Some view fur sales as a practical response to the energy crunch. Others see fur as both a fashion and financial investment, pointing out that mink, in particular, has resale value. The emphasis on higher-priced quality items has certainly been a factor. And the economic climate itself may have helped spur sales. One theory has it that people who have the money are deciding to buy a fur now, because they might not be able to afford it if they wait. Furs may even represent a trend of getting back to the basics.

Fur has become part of the life style of every age group, class, and sex. No longer the province of movie stars and well-heeled matrons, fur sales for men have increased markedly. Not long ago the share of men wearing furs was about 4 or 5 percent. Soon, sales of furs to men will account for 15 to 20 percent of total volume.

The age of fur buyers is dropping significantly. Fur is fast gaining in popularity with teen-age girls.

The remodeling and repair of furs is also increasing dramatically, as many women have old, full-length furs cut down or lengthened. In addition, stoles and capes are being converted into fur jackets.

For women, the most popular fur is mink, which is lightweight, easy to work with, and long lasting. Other favorites are beaver, fox, muskrat, lynx, nutria, and coyote. Rabbit is the favorite for teen-age girls because it is the most inexpensive and casual.

For men, the favorites are beaver, mink, and coyote, with raccoon becoming quite popular.

New manufacturing techniques have been a boon to the industry, making furs more lightweight, comfortable, and durable. This factor has also spurred sales of fur-lined raincoats and fur vests, as well as fur purses, muffs, hats, and even cowboy hats.

Price depends on such factors as the color of the skins, country of origin, workmanship, style, and the extent of alterations needed.

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