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"Inside the Peltway"


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Inside the Peltway

With a new administration, fur is in fashion in Washington



WASHINGTON -- Fashions here change with each administration. Ronald Reagan ushered in an affinity for dark blue Brooks Brothers suits, and during George W. Bush's tenure, the town embraced cowboy boots.


With the Obama administration, fur is flying. Residents are sporting mink jackets, shaking the mothballs off their chinchilla coats and pulling sable stoles out of storage. Sales of fur are up, too, some Washington retailers say.

Fur Fashion: From Washington to the Runway


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Associated Press


The fall 2009 collection of Thakoon is modeled during Fashion Week in New York, Monday, Feb. 16, 2009.


At the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, it's "ridiculous" how much fur has been dropped off at recent black-tie events, says Mike Dean, a coat-check attendant.


Many designers showed fur on the runways for this season. Helping drive the style in D.C.: A number of administration appointees are from Chicago, which has long embraced fur to fight off the biting cold winter wind. Keith Kaplan, executive director of the trade group Fur Information Council of America, estimates that more people wear fur in Chicago on a regular basis than any other U.S. city. Chicago ranks second behind New York in retail fur sales.


Furs came out around the time of the inauguration, when subfreezing temperatures coincided with high-glamour events. They've stayed as nearly 6 inches of snow covered the White House Monday.


Also, the administration has attracted a lot of professional African-American talent to the D.C. area, and fur-industry officials say that black consumers are disproportionately big fur buyers. Their share of the market is up even as nationwide sales have declined. In 2006, the last year for which data are available, black consumers represented 27% of fur sales in the U.S., compared with 16.5% in 2002, according to the Fur Council, based in Los Angeles.


The style may seem at odds with the socially conscious Obama administration. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama talk often about using locally grown organic food and adopting a rescued shelter dog for their daughters.


"The administration is all about understanding and caring, and there's no place for fur in that," says Ingrid Newkirk, president of Norfolk, Va.-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.


The first lady doesn't wear fur. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment.


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Fur in Fashion

Stephen Voss for The Wall Street Journal


Natisha Dawson of Washington looks at fur coats at Inga's Once Is Not Enough, a shop in Georgetown.

Fur in Fashion

Fur in Fashion


After a pro-Obama friend warned her not to wear her long brown mink in a crowd of Democrats at an inaugural concert on the Washington Mall, Cynthia Steele Vance, a Republican, bought a black down coat.


"Then I go to the concert and everyone has a fur on and I'm in this horrible-looking puffy coat," Ms. Vance says.


The most prominent elected official on the stage Inauguration Day wearing animal hair, animal rights groups say, was former President George H.W. Bush in a beaver hat. A spokesman for Mr. Bush declined to comment.


In the crowds, rapper Jay-Z kept warm in a sable trapper cap. Queen Latifah wore a dyed black fur poncho. Designer Diane von Furstenberg dressed in an arctic marble fox coat to a pre-inaugural ball.


Peter Marx, president of the Saks Jandel boutique in Chevy Chase, Md., says fur sales spiked in December and January compared with the same time last year, mostly due to women preparing for inaugural festivities.


The pelts angered animal-rights groups. To protest, PETA activists dressed like raccoons, foxes and rabbits and handed out hot chocolate in cups that said, "Thank you for keeping warm without fur."


In the wave of fur, however, 47-year-old store owner Frances Crespo sees a symbol of success. "For my parents, making it was having a Cadillac," says the Puerto Rico-born Ms. Crespo, who wears a vintage mink stole or vintage fur bolero with jeans on cold Washington days. "Fur coats are something we grew up with and thought, 'When I make it, this is how I'm going to dress.' I don't think there's anything wrong with that."


Fur has long played a part in African-American style. The Harlem Renaissance inspired a rush for fur among urban blacks. After World War II, many black Americans wore fur as a way to display prosperity and impress potential employers, police officers and other authority figures, says J. Lorand Matory, an anthropology and African-American studies professor at Harvard University.


While fur has seen a "lapse of popularity among white American elites because of the animal-rights movement, it hasn't suffered a similar lapse among African Americans," he says.


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Fur in Front

Getty Images


People react at the Washington Monument as Barack Obama takes the oath of office during the Presidential inauguration

Fur in Front

Fur in Front


In late January, a D.C.- and Atlanta-based lifestyle and fashion blog, The Posh Life, posted an open letter titled "Black People Love Furs: PETA Who?"


To keep warm on Sunday, Mariessa Terrell, a 36-year-old attorney, wore a vintage ankle-length black mink coat over a black Dolce and Gabbana wool suit and purple stilettos to Washington's Second Baptist Church.


"I like to glam it up on occasion," Ms. Terrell says.


The style comes as the Obama administration treads carefully to avoid displays of conspicuous consumption during the economic crisis. Mrs. Obama has worn J. Crew and asked the White House kitchen to serve more basic foods.


Janet Wood, a 63-year-old in Annapolis, Md., says wearing her white mink that cost $14,000 when she bought it roughly a decade ago helps in a recession. "It's nice to remember that at one time I could just frivolously throw that kind of money away," she says.


Many D.C. residents have bought second-hand furs. Georgetown consignment shop Inga's Once Is Not Enough sells furs including a $6,000 long Fendi mink, a $1,000 crocheted sable stole from department store Neiman Marcus and a $500 Gucci mink handbag with a gold buckle.


Owner Inga Guen says fur sales have more than tripled this year compared with a year ago. Ms. Guen, in a black mink Armani bolero one recent afternoon, said about half the store's fur buyers are African-American, including several Chicago women close to the Obama administration.


Karen Brown, a 56-year-old retiree who shops at Inga's Once Is Not Enough, wore a long black mink to meet friends for lunch on Tuesday when temperatures hovered below freezing. She's noticed other black friends in fur lately.


"Michelle and Barack make you feel like, 'Oh, I can get dressed and look elegant and wear fur,' " she says.


Write to Amy Chozick at [email protected]

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I loved it!

Incidentally, if you go to any dressy winter time event in which you're likely to see African-American women, you can be sure that some of them will be wearing fur.

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Several weeks ago, I went to Millard's Fur Service in San Diego, which is near Balboa Park in the Hillcrest area. I saw a middle-aged, slightly overweight African-American woman try on a gorgeous, soft blue mink, full-length coat. The fur was very soft and it looked incredible on her.



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