The global business of luxury fur

THESSALONIKI – Prominent players in the international fur industry gathered in Thessaloniki from October 10 to October 12 to establish communication, conduct business and share views. Professionals from Italy, Canada, Russia, the USA, Germany, Hong Kong and Greece joined forces to promote their industry, which is currently targeting three substantial markets: new-money consumers feverishly looking into purchasing the trendiest looking styles; the classic clientele of discreet, quality items; and finally, a big market for fur accessories. As a trade show making its mark for the first time, FurMode 2002 was organized by EuroPartners and hopes to become an annual fixture of the international fur trade – one of its highlights being a runway show presenting the season’s hot trends. For the professionals coming from various countries, it was also an acknowledgement of the importance of the Greek fur industry – a serious player since Byzantium in the northern Greek regions of Kastoria and Siatista. Known for their craftsmanship and their personalized service, many of the area’s 2,000 fur-making businesses are considered top of their field in the world. According to the Hellenic Fur Center, about 98 percent of local production is exported. Up to the late 1980s, Germany, Spain, France and Italy were major clients, while the 1990s witnessed the USA and Russia emerging as major clients. The importance of the fur industry to Greece is reflected on various levels: Six percent of foreign currency flowing into Greece stems from fur, with Greek furriers treating 12 percent of world fur skin production, and ultimately producing about 30 percent of global fur products. In Kastoria and Siatista, Russian clients travel in groups to place their orders. (Note to readers: There are no fur farming units in Greece, furriers purchase skins at international fur auctions.) Greek expertise is rivaled only by the exceptional skills and know-how of Hong Kong professionals, who, in combination with Chinese cheap labor, account for 60 percent of worldwide fur production. «The more you practice, the better you become,» said Robert C.H. Lam, managing director of Claveyson Fur Processing Ltd, a family business in Hong Kong. As a board member of the Hong Kong Fur Federation, Lam traveled to Thessaloniki to exchange ideas. «The industry’s key words are change and innovation,» said Lam. «You must follow the trends but you must then develop them even more, through technological innovation, such as processing, for instance.» The possibility of transferring part of Chinese fur production to workshops in Kastoria and Siatista region was noted by one Greek fur designer. «Greece has the advantage of smaller units and more personalized service,» said Lazaros Savvidis of local specialists. A well-known and seasoned fur designer based in Kastoria, Savvidis recently reached a deal with Italian raw-material pelt company Del Brembo and has already executed an exclusive collection for this winter, including items such as a reversible coat combining six different colors of silver fox in a pattern known as the chess technique or a reversible beige three-quarter rabbit coat using the riliero technique. A member of the Fur Information Council of America (FICA), Savvidis is also about to inaugurate a state-of-the-art workshop where, besides working on his exclusive patterns, he will concentrate on teaching fur pattern design. At Soulis, a leading Greek company established in 1977, the current season is about the most luxurious pelts and patterns: Backglama, Swakara, plucked mink and sable, among others, along with a color palette including salmon and blue. «This year’s collection was developed for a classic woman but it is all about wearing the coats all day long,» said Alessio Sisi, the Soulis collection designer, whose finale featured a tribute to the American Indians based on white mink. «It is about interpreting fur for everyday life, ordinary life. It is also about stirring some emotion, in terms of fashion, and overall, de-dramatizing fur.» De-dramatizing fur is one way of revitalizing an industry that, aided by a hard-to-miss fur comeback on prestigious designer catwalks in Paris, Milan and even London, is looking ahead with a sense of optimism. Furthermore, if buying a fur coat in the old days used to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience – when all you needed was one quality piece and a little bit of cold weather – fur lovers these days should start saving up right now, given the variety of trends, infinite choice of styles and the supply of skins ranging from rather affordable to very expensive. Another factor is that today’s younger generation has also been introduced to fur, with street styles a major issue on designers’ minds, while professionals talk about treating and using fur as a fabric, rather than fashion’s most luxurious and controversial material. But the industry is also well known for causing global outcry and attracting heavy criticism for animal cruelty. Officials at the Thessaloniki show defended the industry as preserving nature, where hunting down animals for their precious skin is conducted within strict, legal frameworks, while the majority of skins come from fur farms. «Fur is popular in Hollywood, popular with the real jet-set and it is these people that the radicals need in order to promote their views,» said Michael D. Mengar, president and CEO of North American Fur Auctions, and a materials supplier to many of the exhibitors in Thessaloniki. Mengar’s visit to Greece highlighted the importance of supporting customers – with Greece being a prominent one. Following the slowdown in the US economy, so far this year, retail figures were low compared to figures from two years ago. However, Mengar is confident that given fur’s current fashion pull, the industry’s development would not be thwarted, though the industry remains a hot target for activists around the globe. «It seems to me that activists are more concerned with other issues right now,» said Mengar. «They haven’t gone away but, at the same time, peoples’ attitudes, in general, have changed toward them; they were way too radical.»