Fur is flying into style Fashion: Designers create garments with the look of luxury and the flair and fit of casual clothing.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When designer Marc Jacobs announced that he wanted to shear sable, the furriers he works with at Maximilian were aghast. Once the long guard hairs were removed, they told him, a $50,000 sable would look like any $20,000 mink. "Who cares?" Jacobs told them. "Just shear it."

Jacobs turned his sheared sable skins into skinny, lightweight coats cut as snugly as a sweater. He made velvety turtleneck sweaters out of black mole and offered shirt jackets in sheared burgundy mink.

"I abandon rules about fur because you can't treat fur in a young way if you're precious about it," said Jacobs, who is known in the fashion world for taking the expected and turning it inside out. "I have a reverse snobbism approach to fur. There's a high luxe factor to using sable, but to me it's almost more deluxe to not know it's sable than to know it is. You want to break down those images of what a fur coat is. I don't want to think about what becomes a legend most."

This less reverential approach toward furs is being echoed by a fresh crop of designers who are injecting a youthful spirit into a staid industry. While some designers are producing styles that may look like thrift-shop bargains to the average person, others are playing retro glamour to the hilt. They're evoking Lana Turner, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford and even Doris Day in slinky wraps, fur-trimmed evening gowns and entrance-making hats. And they're not shy about capturing the extravagance of Hollywood's golden era in white and pale blond furs and silver fox trim.

"The most exciting thing happening in the industry is the phenomenal increase in the number of designers creating fur fashions," said Sandy Blye, director of fashion promotions for the Fur Information Council of America, a trade association. In 1985, there were 42 designers working in fur. That number has jumped to 144 and includes names such as Michael Kors, Isaac Mizrahi, Byron Lars, Donna Karan and Victor Alfaro. "What's also important is that most of the new designers are young, so they're targeting the young consumer. They're all bringing a different sense of freshness and modern silhouettes to the industry," says Blye.

The new ideas are coming at a time when fur appears to be regaining both visibility and acceptance. With luxury and status goods from diamonds to designer belt buckles making a comeback, fur is also rebounding. According to the Fur Information Council, sales climbed 10 percent in 1995, to $1.2 billion. Although mink prices are at their highest in years -- furriers estimate that they've jumped 25 to 30 percent at retail -- that only seems to add to their cachet. In fact, the highest priced furs, particularly sable, are among the fastest sellers.

Giving furs an added boost is "The First Wives Club," the hit female buddy revenge movie starring Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton. "It's all fur," boasted Nick Pologeorgis, president of Pologeorgis Furs, which holds the fur license for Michael Kors and Zandra Rhodes. While that's something of an overstatement, the movie features at least a half dozen fur coats, ranging from a swingy sheared topper on Midler's middle-age housewife character to the pale blond knee-length fur on the trampy young mistress of her ex-husband.

Madonna, hardly a stranger to setting trends, should add further oomph to fur sales with the Christmas release of "Evita," which will feature her draped in stoles and coats specially made by Fendi.

Now that designers are treating furs as another fashion item, the trends mirror those in clothing. And designers like Jacobs and Kors don't stop at coats: They use flatter furs such as broadtail in sweaters, vests and skinny pants.

The predominant look in coats is long and lean. That's very long, as in maxi coats reminiscent of the '70s. Lighter-weight furs from sheared beaver to pony and Persian lamb minimize the bulk, and some of the sheared furs look as supple as velvet. Lean coats that just hit the knee are also gaining ground with younger designers. Military looks are prevalent and range from the obvious epaulets and brass buttons to the slim trench coat from Fendi or the icy pink pea coat from Jerry Sorbara.

Zandra Rhodes did safari coats with leather buttons in both short and long lengths. Designers also favored leather in military styles, adding fur accents or a reversible fur lining.

Sporty styles that aren't relegated to special occasions also remain important. Shearlings lend themselves well to more casual shapes in both long and short lengths. But sheared mink and beaver also work when they're turned into hooded duffel coats and anoraks. Byron Lars shaped dyed rabbit jackets close to the body to create a snow-bunny look.

Color comes on strong, from deep burgundy and marigold to a full range of greens. Oscar de la Renta, Marni and Sorbara were among the many designers who dipped into the icy pastel palette. De la Renta's soft raspberry sheared knee-length coat worn with chocolate leather pants was a model of casual chic.

Some of the freshest looks are at the dressy end of the spectrum, with pale blond and white furs soaring in popularity, although their relative scarcity makes them hard to find. Apparently, women are willing to forgo practicality for the glamour of white.

Evening-wear gains another dimension when fur rims the neck of a satin gown or serves as the collar of a jacket. The look has taken hold, with cutting-edge designers such as Dolce & Gabbana even showing fur accents in their recent spring '97 runway show.

Han Feng started offering stoles last year and added scarves this season. "This fall I made something skinny and small so a lot of younger women can wear it," said Feng, who works with farm-raised mink and rabbit. "It's something that can keep you warm, and because it's a small piece, it won't cost much money."

Small fur jackets are appearing for both day and evening and their retro aura echoes the thrown-together thrift shop looks popular with younger women. The more grandmotherly the reputation of the fur, the better it works, making Persian lamb and broadtail ideal options.

While out at lunch recently in New York, Pologeorgis couldn't take his eyes off a 25-year-old woman in a broadtail jacket with a mink collar that she probably bought at a thrift shop. "She looked unbelievable," he said. "It's a new look right now."

Hot looks in furs

Military might: The major trend of the season in clothing works its way into fur in long and lean styles accented with epaulets, brass buttons and patch pockets. Watch for double-breasted trench coats. Also look for short pea coats in sheared fur or in leather with fur collars.

Dressed-down: Casual parkas, bombers, jean jackets and duffel coats are being interpreted in sheared mink, beaver and rabbit ++ as well as leather that reverses to fur. Colors range from vivid brights to icy pastels. Shearling in all shades lends itself to both short and long styles.

Evening drama: Young designers are fascinated with the retro glamour of stoles and are wrapping up tailored suits and evening gowns in mink, fox, chinchilla and sable. Capelets, shrugs and fur-trimmed wraps are also gaining popularity. White and other pale furs make a comeback in coats, stoles and wraps.

Accent marks: Fur appears as collars and cuffs on everything from coats to tweed suits. Small fur scarves offer an affordable wardrobe update in choices that include sheared mink and fluffy silver fox.

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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