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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Fur is a girl’s best friend
Alexandra Vorontsova

ur has always been dubbed Russia’s soft gold. Try and find a Russian girl whose face doesn’t brighten up at the sight of a new fluffy fur coat, regardless of numerous wildlife conservation campaigns. It is fur that most fashion designers have been highlighting in their latest collections.

Russia is the home of fur. American businessmen used to buy tons of it in the Russian north. And they paid quite handsomely, as shown in an old Soviet comedy, The Chief of Chukotka, who picked up only first-class fur. In 1910, the American fur trader Olaf Swenson paid 7 to 12 roubles for spotted and white young reindeer, from 25 roubles for first-class wolverines, 12 to 18 roubles for white Arctic foxes and 70 roubles or more for polar bears. In the US, the hides sold for a lot more. Where is fur found nowadays? How much does it cost? And how are skins turned into pieces of art?

I asked these and other questions to Izeta Gadzhieva, one of the biggest Russian names in luxury fur fashion and haute couture styles. Her Moscow-based fashion house and boutiques are well known for presenting first-class quality clothes.

Why fur? How did you start your career as a fashion designer?

Why fur? Maybe because Russia has always been known for its fur and high demand for it due to the severe climate as well as the mindset of Russian people who prefer smart and expensive clothes. And since my designer career started with fur, it is now my forte which has brought me fame and success—I like this material. As a fashion designer I, fortunately or unfortunately, incline to European city styles with no shade of traditional Russian elements.

As a child I enjoyed playing with paper dolls, I used to draw clothes for them, I also embroidered, sewed and knitted but never thought this could grow into my main occupation. At the time I considered it quite a usual sort of thing for a girl to do, and did not think it was in any way significant. I was a good student at school, and I planned on a serious career path, without even knowing what I wanted to do. So I went to university, completed a degree in economics, did a postgraduate course and found a job in banking. It was exciting and I was successful, but as a creative person I felt limited by all kinds of rules and instructions. So I started my own business, which was quite interesting and profitable but again far from being creative. Later, when I was designing my flat, I realised that this was the field that interested me and that I should take up design. At the time my husband already ran a business selling leather and fur to manufacturers, so it was he who convinced me to try and open a factory producing items made of leather and tanned sheepskin. I designed items myself and later started making fur coats, dresses, men’s suits and home ware too. I became a permanent fashion week participant and opened a boutique at Crocus City Mall.

How long does it take on average to complete one coat?

The making of a good fur coat is a very complicated and lengthy process with very strict technological requirements. On average it takes from 10 to 15 days to complete a mink coat and 15-25 days for a sable coat. You normally start with buying skins at the best fur auctions from the world’s best producers of fur. Then you design the coat and put it together in numerous stages with only assiduous manual labour involved.

How is fur bought in large scale today?

The best place to buy and sell large quantities of fur is at a large international auction. The most renowned auctions are: Kopenhagen Fur, Finnish Fur, where you can purchase high quality skins of mink, fox, sable, chinchilla; the North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) in Canada; the American Legend Cooperative in the US, where we buy Blackglama mink. The best Russian sable is still sold at Soyuzpushnina auction at St. Petersburg. Of course, there is always an option to buy from fur farms. These skins will be cheaper, but not pre-selected in terms of quality and colour. Therefore we prefer to buy fur from auctions.

Is fur getting more expensive on the international market?

Usually annual prices for natural fur goods increase by the average of 10% at the start of the winter season. This is the way producers try to protect themselves against all the risks related to the opening of a new season, i.e. inflation, demand instability, changes of purchase prices for fur on international auctions. This year the International fur auction demonstrated that the price of fur has risen significantly; from 5%-30%, that has resulted in price jumps in the shops. However, disregarding this trend we have not increased our prices and are currently holding them down.

What fur is in vogue this season?

I would not say that any particular fur is in fashion now. Much depends on what one needs and wants. If we take Russia, topping the list are Barguzin sables, which are elegant and delicate broadtails, North American velvet minks, strikingly chic chinchillas, lynx cats and fluffy foxes.

If I want a custom-made fur coat, how do I tell if the skins are of high quality?

Basically you can tell the quality of fur by sight. Good fur has a bright colour and sheen, its hairs do not stick together. Its down should be even and thick. The reverse side of the hide should be soft.

Tell us about your latest collection.

2010 was the year of France in Russia. I love France, particularly Paris. Paris inspires me and gives me power to create. I love absolutely everything about it—the architecture, lifestyle, the aroma and music of summer cafes. So I have dedicated my latest collection to Paris and called it “Esprit de Paris...”

Have tastes among Russian women changed over the past decade?

I can say for sure that tastes have become more refined. The time is gone when Russian women preferred flashy styles with abundant finish, when various kinds of fur were combined, when fur was roughly processed for design purposes, cut or laser plucked. Today fur is valued for its wholeness and natural beauty, slightly improved by delicate toning or dying. Styles have become more mature, intellectual and it is not only about taking pleasure in the true beauty of fur but also about celebrating its practicality. If before there could be just one fur coat for all occasions, now there are clear lines between daily business styles, sporty styles and fancy evening styles. This also applies to accessories. There are different styles for warm weather, for severe Russian winters and even those suited for summer.

How long does fur last?

It depends. Otters, beavers, sables and raccoons last the longest. Arctic foxes and mink are more sensitive. But if you wear your fur carefully, follow the care instructions and store it properly, it will last for years.

Give us your tips on fur care.

Good fur does not need much. It is quite enough to just dry your coat and put a breathable cover over it. Avoid hangers which can deform or damage the fur. We always give our clients complimentary covers and hangers as well as help them refresh their fur coats after several years of wearing by combing through the fur, volumising the fur by means of blowing air through it etc. In the near future we are planning to install fur fridges so that our clients can store their fur clothes in it. It is becoming an issue with all the abrupt changes in weather we are now facing. If fur is worn and stored properly, it can last for decades.

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