Wild About Fur: Classic Staple Adds Luxe to Modern Wardrobes

What’s a durable, sustainable and fashionable product that endures through the ages? If you answered furs, you’re thinking in the right direction.

When a fur is passed down as a family heirloom it can be changed to accommodate modern styles and trends. Mink, one of the most versatile furs, can line a hood or a warm and cozy vest.

A must-have for any wardrobe, fur keeps you looking warm and glamorous throughout blustery Midwest winters.

Durable, sustainable and versatile, fur can be dressed up or dressed down, restyled to complement current trends or repurposed into fashion accessories and home decor items. Pillows, throws, chair coverings, floor coverings, handbags and backpacks can all be fashioned (upcycled) from a vintage fur coat.

Ordinary accessories become glamorous fashion statements when fur is repurposed as trim for gloves, boots, scarves and headbands. Accessorize a simple sweater with detachable fur cuffs and it instantly becomes spectacular.

“I call fur the ultimate recyclable because you can always repurpose it and change it,” says Kathy Rezny, co-owner of York Furrier, at 107 N. York St. in Elmhurst.

Excited about the possibilities? Full-service furriers are experts at restyling and repurposing vintage furs. Take a look inside your closet and imagine the possibilities.

“Fur is not a disposable product,” Rezny says. “It’s something that will last and have sentimental value carried down from generation to generation.”

Versatility is one of fur’s most appealing qualities. An experienced furrier can repurpose a vintage fur garment to create a bold new fashion statement.

Fur’s tendency to become a family heirloom is part of its allure. Over the years, many women have come to York Furrier to repurpose full-length mink coats they inherited from a grandmother, who only wore it every now and then to church or special occasions. While different generations may have distinct needs, a full-service furrier knows how to bring new life to a timeless classic.

Mink, for example, can be restyled into vests, jackets with zippers, or hooded parkas with either detached or permanent hoods. To add extra plushness to a mink hood, trim it with fox or Finnish raccoon fur, Rezny says.

The younger generation desires everyday, on-the-go-glamour, Rezny says. The options are many. With ease of wear a top priority, she suggests restyling full-length furs into knee-length walking coats, a fur vest or reversible raincoat by adding a waterproof lining.

“The wonderful thing about fur is it’s very lightweight to wear but the warmest fiber you can buy,” Rezny says. “Down is lovely. But air doesn’t get through fur’s solid leather pelt. You can take fur to Antarctica and be perfectly warm. You get that durability with fur, longevity of wear, warmth and fashion.”

Shopping for fur is all about personalization.

“When picking out a coat, find something that works for your lifestyle and how you anticipate wearing the garment,” Rezny says. “Some people love a fox, sable, chinchilla – long furs they won’t wear on an everyday basis. When it comes to minks, make it more fun and playful by adding a bell sleeve, fun color or sash belt.”

Fur can add a touch of glamour to any outfit and make every day feel like a special occasion. For running daytime errands in style, pair a fur coat with denim, booties and a T-shirt. At nighttime, wear it to black tie events with an evening gown and dress shoes. Lately, celebrities are wearing fur vests with evening gowns for “extra luxe” as they walk the red carpet, Rezny notes. For more casual nights out, couple your fur with a sleek sweater, skirt and fashion boots.

Shearling coats for men sport a textured finish outside with fur on the inside that adds extra warmth and comfort.

Fur handbags, shoulder bags and muffs that dual as purses are fun ways to incorporate fur into everyday wardrobes. Colorized sheared mink and beaver coats in vibrant shades of red, navy, classic black and chocolate brown are all the rage. Knee-length is the cut of choice for getting in and out of cars easily, stepping onto the train, hopping curbs and generally moving around unencumbered.

“The nice thing about furs is that they’re personalized in the lining with the owner’s monogram,” Rezny says. “When they do a coat check, they have their name on it.”

Fur and other fine outerwear have a place in men’s closets, too. Fantastic leathers, superfine wools, cashmere and alpaca are the fabrics today’s fashion-forward men are wearing.

Shearling is making a comeback, too. This lamb product, featuring fur on the inside and pelt on the outside, was made popular years ago by the Marlboro Man. This new generation appreciates how shearling is so versatile, not to mention its textured finish of leather or suede, fur accents on the pelt side or leather accents on the fur side.

Proper care and storage of fur is crucial to keeping it looking vibrant and new. Rezny advises shoppers to take furs out of transport bags as soon as they arrive home. Place fur in an outer-wall closet that is cool and dark. Leave space around the fur to let air circulate. Don’t squish it between other garments. Use the broad hangar that comes with the fur to keep the shape of the shoulders intact. Avoid closets with big heat vents that pour down on the fur or big windows that stream light.

Exposure to both can damage the coat. Each fur has a leather pelt that needs to stay soft and supple, Rezny says. Heat will dry it out, causing the pelt to crack like a potato chip, while sunlight can cause it to oxidize or change color.

To maintain the pelt during the hot summer months, it’s best to store fur inside a furrier’s humidity and temperature-controlled vault. As the temperature changes in late spring, bring the coat to a furrier to examine it for any necessary repairs. Have them check its closures: hooks, rings or zippers to make sure nothing needs attention while it’s in storage over the summer, because getting in and out of the coat should always be easy.

To restore the garment’s beauty and maintain its durability, Rezny advises an annual cleaning, usually once winter has passed. Cleanings involve removing fine dust and impurities, conditioning to restore the fur’s sheen and cleaning the lining to remove stains, including salt stains from hemlines. For a client who smokes, an additional ionizing process to eradicate odor is highly recommended.

A word of caution: It’s important that furs are cleaned by furriers, and not dry cleaners. “Furriers use an environmentally friendly, gentle process,” Rezny says. “The chemicals at a dry cleaner may cause the fur’s leather to become dry and brittle.”

Although faux fur might seem appealing at this point, Rezny says it’s not a substitute for fur. “It’s generally made from petroleum-based products and takes decades to disintegrate in a landfill, whereas fur is a natural product and biodegradable,” Rezny says. “If you want to be environmentally conscious, wear real fur.”

Saying Goodbye at York Furrier
After 92 years and three generations of family involvement, York Furrier is closing for good this winter. Started in 1931 by Joseph Wagner, the company has been a staple in downtown Elmhurst for generations.

Kathy Rezny, Wagner’s granddaughter, and her husband, John, plan to retire when they close the store, most likely some time in February. The couple are still deciding how they’ll pass on fur care services for their loyal clients.

“We’ve spoiled everyone,” Kathy says. “We do everything on premises. We have our own design team, workshop, on-site vault. We do all of our own hand cleaning of shearling and leather. We want somebody who has similar capabilities.” 

As Rezny finalizes her retirement plans, customers who sign up to be a “York VIP” at YorkFur.com will receive email updates about final sales, the store’s official closing date and Rezny’s recommended furrier.