An Insider’s Guide to Buying a Fur Coat
How to stay warm and look chic this winter without getting fleeced.
Animal lovers, look away. Fur is making a comeback across the fashion capitals – no self-respecting fashionista would be caught this season without a fur coat, vest, stole or – at the very least – some fur trim on that fabulous new handbag. As winter arrives in Moscow, so too does the chance for Tverskaya boutiques and market salesmen alike to get their fur coats and accessories back on the rack.
If you’re new to the infamous Russian winter, or if you’ve just never gotten around to buying a fur, the variety of coats, outlets and price ranges can be daunting. Which type of fur should you buy? Should you venture out to one of the local markets or stick to boutiques? What tender loving care do you need to bestow on your precious new purchase? We set out on a shopping spree to find answers to these questions and more.
Shuba or Dublyonka?
Your first decision will be whether to buy a shuba (a classic fur coat) or to opt for a dublyonka (a coat with the fur on the inside and either leather or suede outside). Originally made only from sheepskin, dublyonkas are now also made from animal fur, most commonly fox, beaver and coypu (a semi-aquatic South American rodent).
Whichever coat you choose, bear in mind that long-haired furs are no warmer than their shorter-haired counterparts. A coat’s warmth is determined by the underfur, which are thicker, softer hairs lying under the longer guard hair. Whether or not the guard hairs have been sheared, the underfur remains so there is no difference in warmth factor. Guard hairs, when unsheared, only serve to give the various furs their individual appearances.
Which type of fur — for how much?
- Make sure that the pelts are well-matched, supple and even in sheen.
- Good workmanship is essential. Check that the seams are sewn tightly and evenly and that the hems fall straight.
- The easiest way to check a coat’s quality is to feel it. The underfur should be uniformly textured and guard hairs should be soft and lustrous.
- Check its weight when you’re trying it on. Particularly at the lower price range, some furs can be very heavy, and you don’t want to be lugging an extra 2 kilograms or more around.
- Buy a coat that falls to mid-thigh at the very least – you’ll need it in this weather.
- Don’t use a garment bag – your coat needs to breathe. If you do need to use a bag for a short period of time, make sure it’s a loosely woven cloth bag.
- When your coat gets rained or snowed on, shake it out and hang it to dry in a well-ventilated area. Resist the temptation to use a hair dryer or put your coat near a heat source – furs don’t like heat.
- Don’t comb or brush fur – it may end up looking mangy. If the hairs are looking a little bristly, simply smooth them with your hand.
- Have your coat cleaned annually by a fur specialist or a dry-cleaner. Also ask if they will provide additional services such as conditioning, tightening of buttons and mending of early tears.
- While not strictly necessary, sending your coat for professional storage in the summer will prolong its life. See box at right for services.
- No matter what your body shape, avoid that temptation to go for a smaller size and pick a coat that is too tight or fitted – you’ll look like an overstuffed bear.
- Find a coat that is cut specifically for smaller sizes, as these are made proportionally for petite women with shorter arms and bodies, not just an abbreviated hemline.
- Avoid knee-length coats as these cut your legs in half. Instead, choose thigh-length coats for a younger, trendier look or three-quarter coats for a more classic style.
- Knee-length swing coats can be very flattering if you are pear-shaped and like this look.
- Otherwise, go for a clean, A-line coat to disguise a wide behind and give a more attractive silhouette.
- Avoid A-line coats, as the wide line would start from the top and continue all the way down, making you look bigger than you actually are.
- Instead, try a belted look that brings the line in at the waist.
- Choose a sheared fur or a dublyonka as these present a slimmer silhouette.
- Avoid long-haired full furs. If you must, have some long-haired trim instead on the collars or cuffs.
Which animal eventually provides you with winter warmth will be determined primarily by how much money you can afford to spend, although it’s possible to find a wide variety of prices for each type of fur. At the top end, expect to pay $4,000 to $7,000 and above for sable, chinchilla, marten and certain types of fox. Mink, that classic of fur coats, can cost from $3,000 into five- or even six-figure prices. More reasonably, you can find black fox, beaver or coypu starting from $300. Also in this price range, rabbit fur — long sneered at as the poor cousin of mink despite being silky and dense — is growing in popularity as an affordable luxury.
If you’re considering investing in a mink coat, bear in mind that there is a difference between female and male mink. Generally, female mink weighs less and is softer and more supple, making it more adaptable to tailoring and draping. Male mink, however, is of equally excellent quality and is slightly more durable.
Whatever your budget, the general rule is this: make sure that you get the best quality for your money, even if that means buying a less expensive type of fur. For example, it’s better to buy an excellent-quality coypu rather than a fair-quality mink, as this usually means you’ll be getting better pelts and workmanship, the two most important considerations for any fur coat.
Where should you go?
If you have patience and a sense of adventure, you may want to have a wander around one of Moscow’s large clothing markets, which sell everything you will need for the winter, from coats to boots, hats, gloves and scarves. Two of the more popular of these are in Luzhniki and Konkovo. Of the two, Konkovo is a more pleasant shopping experience — it’s covered, the stall owners are friendlier, and despite being smaller than Luzhniki, it had a wider variety of furs.
Another advantage of these markets is the possibility of haggling over the price. Once you find that to-die-for fur, whatever you do, don’t look too interested. Check the price, then keep looking at other merchandise — and make sure the owner notes that you’re under-whelmed. Then, suggest he knock twenty percent off the price. He will most likely refuse, at which point you can counteroffer a ten percent discount, which is much more reasonable and more likely to lead to a transaction. There’s no guarantee that you’ll receive a discount — but it’s worth a try, especially given the sum involved.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the prices in markets are not necessarily lower than in specialized stores such as Snow Queen (Snezhnaya Korolyeva) and Fur and Leather World (Mir Kozhi i Mekha). Both of these competing chains stock an impressive variety of local and imported coats and accessories to suit most budgets and tastes. More up-market options can be found at retailers Ekaterina and Laplandia. Salespeople in these venues are generally very knowledgeable about their wares, and the clearest sign that they have your best fashion interest at heart — not just their commission — is when they gently let you know that that dublyonka you have your heart set on just isn’t flattering on you.
There are also numerous boutiques in the city center selling furs as part of a wider collection or specializing in fur products. Of these, Kiev-born international fashion designer Helen Yarmak is one of the most notable — her cutting-edge designs and sumptuous furs have even dressed Sex and the City’s trend-setting characters.
Real or Faux?
Mindful of the anti-fur movement that is particularly vehement in America and the UK, faux fur is now readily available in most places, including Moscow. Synthetic fur comprises a polyester base (imitating animal skin) knitted with acrylic fibers that substitute for real animal pile. This technique, pioneered in the 1940s, does produce — to the amateur eye, at least — real-looking fox, ermine and even mink faux furs. Manufactured furs are significantly cheaper than their real counterparts, with the difference for furs in the upper price ranges (chinchilla, mink) sometimes 70-80% less.
The key question, however, is whether faux furs will be warm enough for the subzero temperatures ahead. The answer, according to those in the know, is that nothing but the real thing will do. Countless stories are told of the best-intentioned foreigners tumbling from their high moral ground once temperatures hit minus 10 degrees (still mild, say some Muscovites) and heading for the nearest fur outlet.
So how do you tell the difference between real and faux furs? Real furs have a high luster and a dense, glossy sheen that imitations just can’t reproduce. More helpful for the less experienced are these three tips:
||If you look closely at the area where the fur begins, the real product will have a mix of thick, uniform hairs (the underfur) and longer, silkier guard hairs. Faux fur hairs tend to be homogenous and lighter such that they appear almost feathery.|
||Real furs have a faintly rich, leathery scent whereas fakes retain the smell of their chemical origins.|
||Real fur is soft and lustrous, and stroking it is reminiscent of a well-groomed domestic pet. Dyed fur may sometimes not be as soft as in its natural form, but this difference is usually negligible. A fake fur feels slightly sticky and almost squeaky under your hand.|
- Snezhnaya Korolyeva (Snow Queen)
16/1 Leningradskoe Highway.
- Mir Kozhi i Mekha
(Fur and Leather World)
4 Sokolnicheskaya Plochad. Metro: Sokolniki
7/5 Bolshaya Dmitrovka Ul.
Metro: Pushkinskaya, Okhotny Ryad
4 Devyatkin Per. Metro: Kitai Gorod
- Helen Yarmak
5/5 Petrovka Ul. Metro: Okhotny Ryad and
Actor Gallery 16 Tverskaya Ul. Metro: Tverskaya
- Luzhniki Market
24 Luzhnetskaya Embankment. Tel. 201 1724
Exit towards Luzhniki stadium and walk straight for 500 meters. You will see booths and pavilions on your left. Just follow the permanent crowd, including week-days. Stroll through the market to find the furs.
- Konkovo Market
126 Profsoyuznaya Ul. Tel. 420 2277. Metro: Konkovo.
Exit towards Yarmarka Konkovo.
Right by the subway there are
big metal pavilions. Furs are in pavilions
#1 and #2.
1 Oktyabrskaya Ul. Tel. 288 9622
24 Khavskaya Ul. Tel. 954 3852
- Mekhovoy Kholodilnik (Fur Fridge)
11 Bolshaya Dmitrovka. Tel. 229 7543
- President Service
Tel. 249 5566
Dry Cleaning for Fur Coats and Dublyonkas:
Tel. 336 2533, 788 8227. Hours: Mon-Fri
9 am–9 pm; Sat and Sun 9am–6pm.
Order home pick-up online: http://dryclean.ru/index.php
- California Cleaners
Tel. 493 5311, 493 8500, 497 0005,
497 0011. Hours: 9am-8pm. Multiple locations.
- Evrokhimchistka Leda
Multiple locations. Tel. 787 2263
Order home pick-up online: http://leda1.ru/