FUR MARKETS AND FASHION FURS, 1950-2000
etween 1950 and 2000, the fur markets were rather erratic. With the renewed economic prosperity in the 1950s, fur garments regained their popularity. However, by the end of the 1950s, the sale of luxury furs declined. The fur industry felt that furs such as mink were becoming a thing of the past. Sangster (2011) explains that by 1961 the overall production of fur in Canada was declining as a result of high excise taxes, changing fashion trends, the introduction of fake fur, and consumer disinterest in furs (p. 407-408). In the 1980s, there was a resurgence of interest in furs, but the economic downturn in the 1990s had a devastating effect on the prices of fur, particularly luxury furs (Deluca, 2009, Dyhouse, 2011; Evans, Inc., 1998; Schneider, 2012).
One of the benchmarks on rising or declining fur prices is usually mink. The price of mink had weakened in the 1950s, climbed upwards in the 1980s, and plunged again in the 1990s. Based on auction house prices for the 1980s, an average mink pelt brought close to $50 US, but with the economic downturn in the 1990s, mink prices fell as low as $10 US (Evans, Inc. 1998; Goddard, 2011).
In the mid-1990s, the fur markets began to see some improvements. By 1996, the retail fur trade was rapidly becoming a major economic industry. In 1996, the total retail trade turnover of fur in the European Union was estimated at over $6 billion. In the United States, the sale figures for the same year were in the vicinity of $1.2 billion. In Canada, the entire fur industry was estimated to be $600 million annually (Kastorian Fur, 2004).
The Plight of Animals
In the 1960s, animal right activists began a campaign to sensitize the public regarding the plight of animals and the cruelties they suffer at fur farms. Their efforts appear to have had an impact on the conscience of a number of consumers. In the 1970s, fur coats were beginning to lose their appeal. As a result, the fur industry suffered financial losses. In the United States, for example, a number of companies such as Antonvich International, Inc., Alper-Richman, Furs, Ltd., and Fur Vault, Inc., found themselves facing bankruptcy (Evans Inc., 1998; Schneider, 2012; Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 584).
A number of animals were facing extinction, particularly leopards. But, there are indications that the wealthy and powerful still had an insatiable appetite for these rare skins. In 1962, Jackie Kennedy wore a leopard-skin coat to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Rome. In the same time period Queen Elizabeth II and the film star Elizabeth Taylor were seen wearing the spots (Lee 2003, p. 259). The pressures exerted on governments by animal right activists led to the passing of Endangered Species Acts in a number of countries. In the United States, Congress passed such an Act in 1973, and in 1979 the U.S. banned the import of leopard skins from Africa altogether (Lee, 2003, p. 254; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2011).
Regarding the plight of animals, Goddard (2011) explains that Canada presently has some of the world’s best regulated, best managed, and ecologically sustainable “humane trapping and farming practices.” Several provinces now have acts governing the treatment of animals (see, for instance, Ontario Nature, 2011; Nova Scotia: NS Endangered Species Act, 2011).
In the 1960s, long-haired furs such as fox and fisher became fashionable again. Movie stars still wore luxurious fur coats and fur stoles when attending the Oscars. In 1972, for example, Ann-Margret was decked out in a white fur coat over a royal blue Asian-influenced gown, in 1952, Piper Laurie looked quite chic in a white fur stole described “as soft and pure as driven snow”, in 1957, Nathalie Wood was wrapped in a fur stole trimmed with feathers at the ends, and in 1962 she was draped in a white ermine fur stole. In 1982, Drew Barrymore, the Little Princess, looked angelic in a white fur stole that was identical to the one worn by her mother, Jaid. In 1986, Angelica Huston made quite an impression when she wore a long scarf like white fur stole with animal tails hanging at the ends (Chase, 2003, p. 40, 47, 50, 53, 62, 81,111, 121).
Popular Fur Styles
Fur coats. In 1960, the silhouette of the fur coat had changed. Modish fur coats were now loose and oval in shape with deep sleeves, and were usually collarless. The skins of some of the stylish coats would be worked horizontally rather than vertically (Hansen, 1956, p. 101; 512; Paperpast Yearbook, 1960; Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 440, 466-467). In the past, young women use to dream of owning a fur coat, but in the 1960s they viewed these coats as being unfashionable. A trend among the new generation of eco-conscious youth was to buy second handed fur coats rather than new ones (Deluca, 2009; Dyhouse, 2011).
Fur jackets. In the 1950s, designers such as Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, and Balenciaga were including less formal fur clothing in their collections. They began to feature the shorter fur jackets (Hansen, 1956, p.104). Fur jackets became part of a woman’s evening and daytime attire, and during cold weather the women would wear a matching fur hat.
In the 1960s, the most popular luxury fur jackets included pastel mink, blonde mink, silver-tipped fox, and red fox. Women who could not afford luxury furs would generally be seen wearing jackets made from the pelts of wolf, Persian lamb, and muskrat.
Fur stoles. Various styles of fur stoles and fur wraps were popularized over the years. In 1953, a long thinner fur stole had been introduced and many women preferred them instead of the heavier wraps (Fogg, 2009, p. 13, 99; Fur Fashion UK, 2010).