I am currently in the midst of midterm mania.  This week and next week bring with them exams and projects due… each one finished with barely enough time to sigh of relief before the next one’s stress goes about raising my blood pressure to new heights.

I haven’t even thought of Halloween on Saturday until just now.  It’s a great big cop-out, but I’ll be falling back on my trusty pair of fangs from high school.  Frankly, I’m really not looking forward to it this year… I had no time to prepare, and I certainly don’t have the time to truly enjoy it.  Plus, I’d rather be home with my friends. A very nice classmate has invited me to their Halloween party, and I will stop in, but that’s probably it.

I’ve been doing homework like a fiend all last week, and most of this week, with a brief interlude this weekend when my lovely sister and her also-lovely friend came to visit for 2 days.  It was such a welcome relief!  We went to a Free People sample sale–how cool is that?  That was my first sample sale (yes, I’m aware that I’m not a sample size, but I still managed to find something).  The next day we went to Chinatown, something my sister has never done before, which was kind of mandatory, considering she studies Mandarin at university.

The sights and experiences we saw this weekend will not soon be forgotten: and I will always have a fond place in my memory for the poor guy fighting with the sad remnants of his completely-collapsed umbrella to shield his face from the driving rain.  It looked like he was trying to suffocate himself with it, managing to cover his face and ONLY his face… I’m still kicking myself for not snagging that one on film…

As it stands right now, I have handed in one project, taken one midterm, presented an entire ad-campaign for a company that only exists in my Industry class, and am just now taking a break from my sketching project due Friday.  The assignment was to choose a location in NYC and develop a collection based on that place.  I chose the Museum of Natural History… and so it was only natural that I focus on the Hall of Paleolithic Mammals… specifically?  Early Equus.   Oh yeah, baby… bring on those hooves…


A Trip to the Furrier

Last Monday, our class went to a furrier to see how coats (and other fur items) are made.  Before I go any further, I want you to know that I will not accept any comments as to the morality of this industry.  This was an educational trip, it was terribly interesting, and this blog entry is meant to share the information that I was fortunate enough for them to share with me.  If this may be disturbing to you, skip this post, okay?

I have always been very interested in fur, from a very young age.  My opinions as to its usage over the years have changed dramatically, and I will not use this particular entry to illustrate the current opinion that I have so carefully decided upon after much consideration and research (although, I cannot promise that there will not be a subsequent rant some other day).

The tour began in the retail area of the shop, with the owner kindly explaining all about the types of furs she sells.  I was proud that I could identify everything without help.  She also showed us some new techniques, such as clever knife cuts into the skins in various ways to create more movement, or simply to produce more volume from one fur. For example, one skin might be expanded to the area of nearly two, simply by cutting a vast array of slits alternating across the hide, thus creating an expandable skin with much more drape and twice the area!  This was probably my favorite technique, not only for the look, but because of its practicality. Because the slits are so small, you cannot see any difference from the right/fur side of the hide, except that the animal looks much bigger.

Next we went down into the workroom to see how a mink coat is made.  First, about 45-54 hides are sorted by color, laid next to each other in order so that any gradation is invisible to the eye.  This number of hides is enough to make a full-length, Cruella DeVille-style coat.  So all that you’ve heard about a couple hundred minks going into a standard mink coat is really untrue.  What surprised me was how large the skins actually are (my guess looking at them would be about 9″x28″).  I mean, I’ve seen mink in the wild, and they don’t seem that big, but once they are skinned, they are cleaned and tanned, and then stretched over a board and dried to maximize the area of each skin.

45-degree strips cut from hide

45-degree strips cut from hide

Once they are laid out, they are numbered to note the order.  These are either all-male, which is cheaper, or all-female, which is more expensive. The males are longer, but the females are more lush, if I’m to understand it correctly.  Going in order of the numbers, each hide is trimmed down to a rectangle (head, feet, and tails removed), slit down the middle/spine and put through a press that cuts it into 45 degree-angled strips that are only about 3/8″ wide.  What happens next is the secret to a fine mink coat: the strips are then sewn back together, only staggered along that angled cut by about 1/2″, so as to make one long stripe of fur for each side of the skin, getting to about 55″ long!  This is why when you see the narrow stripes of fur on a mink coat, that you think they are so little: as a little girl, I had imagined that each of those stripes was about 6 or 8 animals, all sewn together in a vertical row.  Not so!  Each stripe is all one animal–this was very enlightening.  So the pelt is actually made longer and narrower by this process, which is called “letting out.”

Sewing the strips on a furrier sewing machine.

Sewing the strips on a furrier sewing machine.

Then the let-out hides are laid out according to the pattern of the coat that will be made in such a way that they radiate from the top downward.  It is not so much like making a north-south/east-west fabric out of the hides, but putting them together according to the shape of the pattern itself.  Also very interesting.

After the coat’s skins are all sewn together and start looking like a coat (still sans lining), the “coat” is put into a giant tumbler with rubber balls to remove any stray hairs that may have shed in the process, as well as giving it the much-needed breaking of the stiffness that may be left over from the drying process in the beginning.

Finished stripes sewn together forming bottom of coat.

Finished stripes sewn together forming bottom of coat.

Then the coat is lined and put up for sale.  Isn’t that amazing?  I thought it was.

Then we went upstairs to look at the hats and how they are made, though that was quite abbreviated.  Basically, the hats can be sewn, blocked, or a combination of both.  For my millinery-aware buddies, I was surprised that a skin can be blocked just like felt (though you can’t hit it directly with steam, as that would cause the skin to shrink up and be destroyed).

The blocking technique deserves its own entry sometime, perhaps I will get to it one of these days (but probably not anytime soon).  It is quite a fascinating process.

All-in-all, I hope that this entry was interesting–I certainly am glad I went.  Even though I stated at the beginning of this entry that I would not be receiving comments regarding anyone’s opinion on the fur industry itself, I would be interested in hearing any technical comments you may have regarding the process, especially if you are a costumer and have worked with these materials before.  Thanks!

Shopping always brings this out in me…

Last Monday I went to Lord & Taylor (never a good idea) to see if I could use the 20% off coupon I’d found online, along with the credit card I rarely use.  My intent was to find a nice pair of pants or some kind of statement piece to assuage my need to acquire.  I figured, “Hey, I don’t have any money, but I’ve got credit!”  This is a shameful way of thinking, and I knew that going into it, but Lordy, sometimes a girl just needs some retail therapy!!

Well, I went to every floor, concentrating mostly on the BCBG, Nanette Lepore, and Lauren by Ralph Lauren areas… BCBG was beautiful but unpractical, Ralph Lauren had no pants with inseams longer than 33″ (WTH, I always used to be able to count on him for long pants!!), and Nanette Lepore didn’t seem to have anything left that I actually wanted in anything close to my size–which is very good, because it saved me about $500 for one particularly cheeky riding number.  I wanted it so badly I would’ve bought it a size too small, if they’d had it.  Thank God for unanswered prayers, eh? Um… yeah.

Leopard Belt Included...

Leopard Belt Included...

So, here’s that hot little number to the right.  The fabric was a fabulous nonwoven wool, done in a plaid that was distressed so that there were patches of nothingness (think motheaten or mangy–don’t turn your nose up, it was HOT!!).  The back has asymmetrical pleating to fall over the derriere just. so.  This picture doesn’t do it justice!  The problem is, the model doesn’t have enough ba-donk-a-donk.  However, there has never been a question (nor will there ever be) that I most certainly do.  I was literally, genetically made to wear riding habits.  If only I could wear victorian fashions everyday, I could feel like the sexiest thing this side of the Mississippi.

After a failed mission of last-resort through the gloves section,  I gave up and stalked off for home.  I would like to take a moment to say, what the hell are all of the models wearing for gloves?!  I mean, these girls are as tall as I am.  These girls have giant feet, too!  Big feet means big hands–size 9.5 for gloves, at least!!  So WHY, pray tell, WHY is an 8 considered an XL?!!  And just what, exactly, are the models wearing?  Because there is nothing to represent the taller percentage of the female population when it comes to buying gloves at Lord & Taylor. Nay, there is nothing to represent the taller women in any glove department anywhere!  Why should we be forced to slink around the internet on drag-queen websites for beautiful, albeit limited, accessories?!  Thank God for drag-queens!  Without their retail sites, I’d have never found a sexy pair of 6-inch platforms or elbow-length leather gloves.  I learned this secret early on, when I was around 18 years old and desperate for a pair of beautiful heels that didn’t look like they belonged to Frankenstein’s monster.  It has only been within the last couple of years that retailers had begun to realize that amazons around the globe were a cogent market.  And then the stock market crash happened last September and guess what?  Forget that, chaps–we need to concentrate on the masses!

No longer does H&M carry a plus-size selection.  No longer do many footwear companies produce 11’s or 12’s.  Say goodbye to longer inseams at Ralph Lauren.  “Why?” You say?  Simple.  Because companies feel that it is simply not cost-effective.  And sadly, they may be right.  My argument has always been that taller and larger women are so grateful when they find brands that fit, that they are instantly loyal, and often don’t bother shopping anywhere else.  However, this is the age when women are making sacrifices to extend their wardrobes… sending shoes out to be fixed (excellent!), and learning to sew buttons back on when they fall off just to get another season out of that blouse.  Ladies, this is wonderful.  No one was willing to put forth the effort to save their clothes for more than just one season, but now, the smart people are starting to look at clothing as an investment again, not simply a throw-away commodity.

There will always be the “cheaper, better, faster” Wal-mart-mongering a-holes looking to save a buck at the expense of the earth and the poorest-of-the-poor living on it, but I see this market crash as maybe just the redeeming event we all needed to learn that fashion doesn’t have to be disposable.  50 years ago, quality was paramount in clothing.  Even the discount clothing proudly boasted “Union Made” labels.  Most everything was produced domestically, the money stayed within the country, and families put food on the table by working in shirt factories, textile mills and tanneries.  Now we only have the ghosts of these once-great industries.  The equipment, strong, hundred-year-old behemoths that never broke down and remained dependable all those years, that same equipment, has been sold overseas.  That same equipment!  But you’ll never find the quality we once had, the skilled labor that came from a lifetime of pride in one’s work!  I have no ill will toward China.  They saw the potential where we dropped the ball.  And now, they are killing us with our own greed.

So the next time you walk into a Wal-mart, or a Zara , or a Forever 21, please just think of the true cost that you’re paying.  How many wearings before that seam rips and the shirt falls apart?  Divide that number into the price (this gives you cost-per-wearing), and you may start to think differently about fast fashion.

Email Me at StarsAndGartersWP@gmail.com