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Is fur no longer dead?


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Is fur no longer dead?

Retailers report fur has found its way into mainstream fashion and the closets of younger women.


By Jenny Kincaid Boone



Tiffany Dobbs pulled on a short black coat made of beaver. She hugged it to her, posing in front of a long mirror at Henri Kessler Furs & Outerwear in downtown Roanoke.


"This, I love," said the 24-year-old graduate student at High Point University in North Carolina. Tiffany Dobbs and her sister, 20-year-old Nicole, also a student at High Point, were home in Roanoke visiting their parents on a recent weekend.


During many visits home, the sisters stop at Henri Kessler to try on fur coats and browse the racks for Christmas and graduation gift ideas.


Nicole Dobbs said she fell for furs after her mom got a mink coat for Christmas three years ago.


"It's just that it will never go out of style," she said, her brown curls bobbing as she pulled on coat after coat.


But for years, furs were hardly haute couture in younger circles. Far from cutting edge, they were seen as decadent declarations of aging and excess. Fur coats were viewed as statements of luxury, seen mainly on women older than 50. But fur has found its way into mainstream fashion and into the closets of younger women, retailers report. For some, fur, both faux and real, is chic, not just something that your grandmother slips on for an elegant evening.


Further, time was when fur flew in the face of idealism. In the 1990s, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal-rights group based in Norfolk, Va., launched campaigns against fur wearers. Protesters were known to hurl red paint at runway models debuting fur fashions. But it seems that the days of protests by animal-rights groups have tempered.


Today, look around and you'll find real or faux fur lining the edges of vests and hooded parkas at stores such as Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch in Roanoke. Coats trimmed with faux fur made it onto a top 10 Christmas gift list at Talbots.


The fur styles are emerging in time for holiday shopping and colder weather.


Nicole Dobbs already has a fox coat, a rabbit coat and a stole made of mink and fox fur. She described her sister as the more reasonable shopper of the two. Tiffany Dobbs has only one fur coat, a light brown short mink.


"I wear it absolutely everywhere," Tiffany Dobbs said. "It's so beautiful with what you are wearing. You can wear it with jeans or a formal. It always looks gorgeous."


In the Roanoke Valley, women such as Robbie Nichols, 38, wear fur coats while shopping, right along with a pair of blue jeans. Nichols also wears mink coats to football games.


Nichols, a self-described fur addict, recently bought a pair of rabbit-fur leg warmers at Bliss, a Roanoke women's clothing store, to wear to a game.


"I have no qualms with accessorizing it [fur] with everything," she said. "I think people are becoming a little bit more casual with it, and I think it's wonderful."


At Hecht's in Roanoke, faux fur coats line racks in the juniors' and women's departments.


Faux first made its way into Hecht's stores last year, and this year, the trend is continuing, said Diane Daly, a spokeswoman for the department store chain. Neutral colors, such as tans and blacks, are appearing more this year. Last year, many faux furs sold in pink and blue, she said.


For younger women, "it is a fashion trend," Daly said. "It absolutely is popular with the juniors."


Daly said certain clothing trends, whether it's what celebrities are wearing or what's happening in fashion capitals such as Paris and Milan, filter down to Hecht's selections and determine what goes on the stores' racks.


"People are seeing what the celebrities are wearing, and they're setting the trends," Daly said.


The fur industry had sales of $1.8 billion in 2004, an increase of 1.1 percent from 2003 sales. Of that $1.8 billion, Keith Kaplan, executive director of the Fur Information Council of America in California, said women 44 years old and younger made up half of the industry's sales, about 51 percent.


Mitzi Tredwell, a manager at Henig Furs inside Belk at Valley View Mall in Roanoke, said 30-year-old professional women are buying fur coats and wearing them to work. At Henig, people may pay anywhere from $8,000 to $18,000 for a full-length mink coat.


But the prices of furs haven't gone down. They actually are going up because of demand, some local retailers said.


Carl Rosen, owner of Henri Kessler, said prices of mink have increased 10 percent to 15 percent annually for the last several years. That equates to a $500 to $1,000 increase on the price of a long mink coat, the classic article of fur, he said. One tan sheared mink short coat at Henri Kessler sells for $4,800.


Mink is the highest selling kind of fur and accounts for 71 percent of fur sales, said Kaplan.


You might find some real fur items for reasonable prices this season. At Henri Kessler, fur scarves are $20, and they come in a variety of colors, including pink, black, red and even Virginia Tech maroon and orange.


PETA protesters still rally against wearing fur, arguing that animals are mistreated at fur farms across the country and world, especially in China, said PETA spokeswoman Brandi Valladolid.


Nichols remembers taking up the PETA bandwagon for a short time in the 1990s before she returned to wearing fur, because she said the protesters "marched off the edge." She said she tries to educate herself about the furs that she buys, and she asks where the animals are ranched.


"I do try to buy from reputable furriers," she said.


Valladolid said PETA encourages people to wear faux fur. Nordstrom even has begun selling a faux fur line, she said. Wearing faux fur is "a matter of taste," Valladolid said. "For people who want the furry look, there is an abundance of fakes."


The Dobbs sisters want the real thing. But how do they pay for it? Probably the way that many college students do.


Nicole Dobbs said she saved to buy her fur fashions, though she doesn't have a job.


"I have a nice allowance," she said.

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