Refurbished: Fur makeovers take center stage
Restyling and recycling old fur is a popular option this season
Seleh Rahman, furrier, tailor and designer, cuts a mink baseball jacket he is transforming into an a-line jacket. Rahman has operated his shop, Seleh's De Federal Hill, for over 22 years. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / December 30, 2011)
She considered giving the garments to charity before discovering Seleh's De Federal Hill, a tailor and furrier specializing in remodeling leathers and furs. A few months later, Randall had a new three-quarter-length coat for herself and a contemporary-looking mink vest with black sweater sleeves that she gave to her daughter.
"It was a Iot like putting together a puzzle," the Pikesville resident said. "They made it work, and made something that we are both enjoying. I've been able to get a lot of wear throughout the winter. I saw the vest on my daughter the other day."
The days of bulky furs are over. Cost-conscious consumers, environmental concerns and changing fashion trends have made recycling and refashioning furs a popular option in recent years. As a result, a growing number of furriers, designers and boutique owners are cashing in on the trend and are catering to a new crop of customers.
Furs are prime candidates for refashioning; people typically don't throw them away because of their costs and sentimental feelings associated with the garment, according to Karen Groner, an adjunct professor specializing in leather design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Groner, who has 30 years of experience in the business, also owns Grownbeans, a small Manhattan studio that specializes in suede, leather and fur.
"We associate wearing [fur] coats with it being a special occasion," Groner said. "There's a real attraction. They are associated with happy times. … People want to hold on to that memory. But they also want to keep up with the style. Fashion changes. A coat doesn't look good with those '80s shoulder pads."
Seleh Rahman, owner of Seleh's De Federal Hill, said remodeled fur projects are up 75 percent at his shop.
"The last three seasons, it has been a big-ticket item," Rahman said from his South Charles Street workroom, where he was in the process of lengthening a mink coat. His assistant was putting the finishing touches on the fur-trim collar accents of a cashmere coat.
Rahman takes older, heavier furs and turns them into thinner, more contemporary-looking jackets and vests. He's also known for his ability to create virtually any garment from fur pieces, including handbags, decorative trim for jean jackets and bow ties.
"It's a complicated process," said Rahman, who has operated the business for the past 36 years. "You have to be really skilled, so that the furs can match and look correct. Really, you only get one shot."
The labor and skill required to complete a fur redesign doesn't come cheap, and projects can cost several thousand dollars.
"It takes a lot of work to rework a coat," Groner said. "You have to completely take it apart and completely put it back together. And then you pray that it holds up."
A complete fur redesign project usually takes about four to six weeks. During this time, pelts are restored, oiled, and refashioned. Customers typically meet with the designer several times for fittings and to discuss pattern options.
Mano Swartz, the Green Spring Station furrier, offers a "Mano-makeover," in which the company promises to repurpose outdated furs into contemporary lightweight pieces in four to six weeks. Prices range from $450 for a pull-string caplet to $2,750 for a reversible coat.
"It's much less expensive to redo something than to buy something new," said Debbie Swartz, the designer and buyer at Mano Swartz. She noticed a significant spike in refashioned and repaired furs three years ago. "It's really nice to be able to show them the options that they didn't know existed."
The downturn in the economy has also increased business for shops that can restore coats, saving owners the cost of replacing them.
Erin Hopkins has had her eight-year-old black mink coat repaired by Rahman a couple of times in the past few years, including having the pockets repaired and the sleeves redone.
Why hasn't she given the coat away?
"I worked hard for that coat," the Federal Hill resident said with a laugh. Hopkins' husband gave it to her as a reward for attending 15 University of Texas football games with him. "It took me 19 years to get that coat."