HELSINKI, Finland — The Finns, stouthearted and strong of spirit and mind, have made a fine art of cold-weather survival. Every effort is made to make winter living comfortable, easy and fun. That means triple-thick windowpanes for insulation, studded auto tires to prevent skidding, advanced equipment to clear the city's muddy snow, streamlined snowmobiles and skis.
In clothing, comfort is of primary importance and that means, to a large extent, warmth. Fur garments are abundant. The streets are not lined with foxtails and not all pedestrians are dripping in mink. But, with 75 fur boutiques within a 10-block radius downtown, Helsinki has fur-density. Fine furs are luxurious, but they are more than a luxury. In Finland, they are a way of life. They are also among this nation's best buys.
A Long Tradition
Finland has a longstanding tradition of fine furs. The country's first furriers' guild was established in 1675 in Turku, then the capital. Today, Finland is one of the world's leading fur producers. Finnish-farmed pelts of mink, fox, muskrat, Finnish raccoon and fitch are sold at annual auctions in the Vantaa Fur Center, outside Helsinki, and find their way to 30 countries including the United States. Pelts bearing the Saga label set worldwide standards; the choicest pelts are further designated Lume select, other exceptionally high-quality skins bear a simple Lume label.
Finnish fur designers create exceptionally well-made, top-quality mink, fox and other fur coats and jackets in classically elegant styles. Because many Finns own more than one fur garment, the design emphasis in Finland's fur industry is on innovation. Fur is used playfully, dramatically, daringly. Pelts are dyed peach, lilac, lime green, smoky red, bottle green, fuchsia. Shapes are bold, broad-shouldered or asymmetrical. The layered look is popular. Many garments are reversible--fur on one side, leather or suede on the other. The styles are distinctive, bold, sophisticated and highly refined.
A good overview of Finnish fur design is available at Stockmann, Helsinki's elegant department store on Aleksanterinkatu. Here you'll find beautifully full-fashioned, full-length classical minks (average price, $4,000 to $6,300), blue and silver foxes, muskrats and leather coats, as well as a handsome selection of garments by Finland's innovative fur designers, including Tarja Niskanen.
The Niskanen collection, one of Finland's finest, may be seen more completely at her boutique at Unioninkatu 30. There are traditional furs at competitive prices: a full-length mink coat with a luxurious high collar, cuffed sleeves and silk lining, costs about $6,500. A reversible mink trench coat, almost ankle-length and with epaulets, sells for about $5,600.
The Niskanen trademark is colorful, playful patterning of longhaired and sheared furs into exquisite wearable art. A traditionally shaped full-length, dark-brown mink coat is individualized by a shawl-like, over-the-shoulder diagonal sweep of beige and light-brown squares--a checkered pattern finished off, on the fur-side-out, with a fringe of mink tails. For added warmth or a sportier look, reverse the coat and wear it leather-side-out. It is stunning and versatile (about $5,000; it sells in a New York department store for $12,000).
Coats are accented with large fur pockets in matching or contrasting colors, strung from a wide fur or leather belt. There is a peachy pink, full-length fox coat and hat ensemble (about $5,000) and, for men and women, lightweight and durable shearing trench coats and jackets ($1,600 and more).
Niskanen's sense of fur finds expression in a delightful selection of hats: a purple fox stocking cap with a purple pompon, would rival an English guard's bearskin in grandeur (you can get a coat to match). There are smaller beanies of mink and leather, and tams of muskrat in a rainbow of colors. Foxtails form fabulous headbands. And more.
The salesclerks at Niskanen are charming and obviously enjoy the products they sell.
Nearby, at Unioninkatu 27, the Grunstein Boutique features fabulous multicolored mink and fox extravaganzas, as well as more conservative styles. Sales manager Kirsti Varis will explain Grunstein's layered look (coat with detachable sleeves, suede/leather lining coat and overvest). They are all reversible, and can be worn together or separately to create a variety of looks, suitable for various functions or weather. These ensembles are constructed from mink, raccoon, lamb suede and leather and cost from $2,600 to $6,300. Grunstein uses natural colors combined with peach, lilac, blue and lime green, in wavy, asymmetrical and patchwork patterns.