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The Times Shopper

Montreal a Haven for Fur Buyers

February 01, 1987|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer.

Montreal, fur capital of North America, has about 200 fur garment manufacturers in a dozen buildings in the heart of downtown, between Boulevard de Maisonneuve and Ste. Catherine, and Bleury and St. Alexandre.

Workshops, small and large, include some of the world's top fur labels, such as Amsel & Amsel (exclusive licensee for Balenciaga of Paris), Yarrow Furs (exclusive licensee for Christian Dior in North America), Goldenburg Furs with Alfred Sung designs, Elat Furs (known for long-hair items), Admiral Furs with innovative Zuki designs, Taran Furs (one of the world's largest manufacturers) and others.

The industry earns more than $100 million for Canada each year, through the export of about half the products to the United States, Europe and Japan.

An Important Role

Fur has played an important role in Canadian history. In 1670 two Frenchmen persuaded Charles II of England that North American pelts could produce profits for European investors. The king chartered the Adventures of England Trading into Hudson's Bay Co. that sent pioneer traders into Canadian territory.

Montreal's fur industry expanded rapidly after World War II, when European fur workers emigrated to the city. New techniques and machinery were introduced, but the industry remains artisanal, requiring skilled labor to match, cut and sew the fur.

The hustle and bustle along the fur district streets is year-round, but reflects the industry's seasonal rhythms. During spring raw pelts, looking stiff and greasy, are carried from Hudson's Bay Co. warehouses into trucks for transport to fur dressers. They emerge groomed, gorgeous, glistening.

Variety and Quantity

When the Canadian winter is mild and snowless, Canadian coyote and wolf are rare. But the number of fur farms is increasing, so mink and other farmed furs are abundant and better buys. Favorite Canadian furs include red fox, silver raccoon, dark mink, beaver, lynx, bobcat, wolf and coyote.

In March and April imported furs arrive and the streets are accented with hues of Scandinavian blue fox, South American spotted cats, golden Russian sable, Australian gray possum and others.

In May about 6,000 buyers arrive from around the world for the weeklong Montreal International Fur Exhibition, where furs and fashions are studied and deals are made.

Before the cold arrives, furs are shipped to retailers across Canada and around the world and by the time snow flies, the new fashions are warming new owners.

Few of the manufacturers open their doors to the public, but Montreal has dozens of fur retailers, many near the fur district.

A Range of Prices

Prices to suit all budgets range from moderate to expensive, but most are less expensive than comparable garments in the United States.

McComber's (440 Boulevard de Maisonneuve) is one of the best retail furriers in town. The much-respected firm was founded in 1895. Since 1968 it has been headed by Raymond Bouchard, who started there in 1952 (when he was 13) as a part-time worker. McComber is known for quality and variety.

Less Expensive Types

In less expensive coats, referred to as affordables, you'll find less expensive types of fur, but the workmanship is always excellent and the service tops. McComber manufacturers most of its own ready-to-wear garments, and fills custom orders in its workshop.

Selected items from top European houses are also stocked, including designer labels. The shop's six spacious salons are an appealing mixture of gray and white, with rose accents. Cushioned carpets, fireplaces, plants and soft lighting give a feeling of warmth.

The shop assures quick alterations and monogramming, plus speedy delivery to your hotel. In addition, McComber gives bank exchange rates on U.S. dollars, and will provide all customs documentation.

No wonder 30% of the firm's sales are made to tourists, many of whom return for additional purchases, such as coats made of raccoon ($2,450 and up), blue fox ($2,140 and up), red fox ($3,990 and up), silver fox ($6,890 and up), male mink ($3,080 and up) or female mink ($4,700 and up). There are wonderful hats and muffs, and delightful toy rabbits made of the real thing.

Largest Fur Retailer

Alexander (20215 de la Montagne) was founded in 1899 and has grown into Canada's largest fur retail chain. Overall, 8,000 to 9,000 coats are kept in stock, and the company uses a high-powered computer system to find and retrieve specific sizes, styles and colors from stores around Canada.

Styling and quality are good, and prices reasonable. Blue fox coats cost $3,000 and up, men's split beaver coats about $2,500, female minks designed by Christian Dior are $6,900 and up, male ranch minks sell for $4,900 and up, and white jasmine mink coats are about $3,900 and up. Hats and muffs to match are stylish.

Papillon (257 Laurier Ouest) offers only the finest quality furs, and does all its finishing. The firm was founded in 1915 and has been at the current address for 60 years. The service is superb.

Referral Customers

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