The owners of New Haven’s three fur suppliers — Joseph’s Furs, Adolf Viennese Couturier-Furs and Fashionista Vintage & Variety — vouched for the city’s interest in fur: New Haven’s fur industry is by no means dead, they said.
On a quiet Sunday afternoon, as the sun was setting on the demure 33 Church St. storefront of the vintage consignment boutique Fashionista, the store’s owner was trying to manage a hairy situation.
“We’re having a real explosion of fur today,” co-owner Nancy Shea said, as she placed a fur collar on an overflowing rack next to the cash register. The collar, composed of two black and white foxes with heads and hind limbs still attached, is designed to hang around the neck of its wearer by the mouths of the foxes. The tails and hind limbs drape around the shoulders and chest of the wearer.
The rack, adorned with a plaque reading “New Arrivals!!” displayed a number of stoles, collars and coats. Stroking a mink collar on the rack, Shea explained that the piece was a ’60s wardrobe staple, made of five American minks sewn together with limbs, heads and eyes intact.
Another two racks of clothing in the packed vintage shop carry additional hirsute items – hats, muffs, fur-trimmed gloves and full-length coats. These items, Shea said, are particularly popular among her diverse clientele of New Haven residents and Yalies, young and old, as the winter rolls around.
Though Shea said she no longer wears fur herself, she added that she does not have reservations about the ethics of selling vintage fur.
“These animals have already been sacrificed,” Shea explained, defending her store’s collection of furs against concerns that she contributes to the hunting and trapping of animals. “They’re going to go to a landfill otherwise.”
Glancing across the pile of collars atop one of the racks, New York University freshman Audrey Rose pulled out a brown mink stole and tried it on. Rose, who was spending the afternoon browsing the vintage shop with her mother, said she had warmed up to the idea of fur after years of being a “PETA nut.” But she added that she only purchases vintage furs, and specifically furs without faces, arms and legs, so that she does not have to display the animals “upfront.”
“They’re cheaper, better looking,” she said of vintage furs. “I like to think they used more humane practices to hunt the fur back then.”
Mr. Adolf, the owner of Adolf’s Viennese Couturier-Furs on 105 Court St., who insisted on not disclosing his last name, said his New Haven shop has been supplying fur to New Haven residents since 1953. Though business is not as glamorous as it once was — no longer are the New Haven sidewalks packed with men and women wearing suits and fur coats on their way to the theater on Thursday nights as in the ’40s — Mr. Adolf said his exclusive customer base remains intact.
“My business is strictly by recommendation,” Mr. Adolf said, “I do not deal with transit off the street. I only deal with people who are interested in spending money and know what they want.”
Outside the Sculpture Building last week, Loren Olsen ’12, wrapped in a black beaver stole, blew rings of cigarette smoke into the 50-degree New Haven night.She said she was conflicted last year between animal rights concerns and the aesthetics of fur. Olsen solved her dilemma by only purchasing vintage furs, sharing Shea’s conviction that this way she does not support the fur industry.
But recently, she changed her fur philosophy and decided it was illogical for her to wear only vintage furs.
“I’ve realized it’s hypocritical to do that,” she said. “Since other people cannot tell whether or not you’re wearing vintage fur, even if you’re taking your personal stance. And since what you wear is such a public thing, you end up supporting the industry.”
At a public showdown seven years ago, PETA protestors outside a Neiman Marcus store in New York City splashed Olsen’s seal fur jacket with red paint, Olsen recalled.
Though Justine Kolata ’12, the co-founder of the Movement for Beauty and Justice and a vocal opponent of fur, called PETA methods “a little too militant,” she said she believes the contemporary killing of animals for fur is unethical and unnecessary.
“I think it’s morally wrong to kill something that has feelings and thoughts and children for clothing,” Kolata said. “I think it’s a very selfish thing to kill another living creature.”
Kolata said instilling a culture of compassion for other beings should be the top priority. The use of fur and its imitations in fashion will then naturally fall out of vogue, she said.
But the strong views of some students on the issue of fur did not account for the majority of the 15 students interviewed. While 10 students interviewed said they feel uncomfortable wearing fur themselves, and are especially against harvesting endangered species, they said they are tolerant of people on campus who wear furs.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Thomas Brandt, vice president of Joseph’s Furs, said. “As long as people don’t push their personal preferences on others, it’s fine.”
The price of fur coats at Joseph’s Furs range from $3,000 to $10,000. While rabbit fur is relatively cheap, a mink coat can cost several thousand dollars, Brandt said.