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The Fur Is Flying

. . . Out of the Doors of Vintage Stores as Young Customers Rebel Against the Skins Taboo

March 13, 1997|ROSE APODACA JONES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the beginning, the management's edict on fur was incontestable: not for sale.

The law at Jet Rag, the 9-year-old vintage emporium on La Brea Boulevard, fell in line with popular opinion. At first, fur owners protested, arguing that their mink-ringed cardigan or fox stole had been dead for generations. But as the shame campaign waged by animal rights activists became fashionable, they surrendered to the ban.

That was then.

Today, dozens of outerwear frocks trimmed in genuine fox, astrakhan and mink hang at Jet Rag. Prices hover at about $30, with a few pieces--designer labels in top condition--fetching $150.

"Some customers don't care anymore if it's real or fake fur," says Damon Arnone, the store's merchandise manager. "I guess they were too young to remember or care about what used to happen when someone wore fur in public."

These customers are mall rats who spent their allowances to snap up every last fur-embellished vintage jacket at Rampage over the holidays. And they are the usual iconoclasts who avoid the malls in search of something rare.

"It's young people, guys and girls in their late teens to mid-20s," says Lorraine Burciaga, a manager at Swanky's vintage boutiques in Anaheim and Norwalk. Neither store can keep fur in stock for very long. "Everybody wants to be so different. They don't want to be on the bandwagon. They want to go out of the norm of what's acceptable."

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Rebellion, rather than memory loss, is the real motivator here. Like cigarettes, which young people also love to flaunt these days, fur is their elders' taboo. It's something to rattle the moms who think tattoos and navel rings are cute.

And besides, Burciaga notes, "They figure it's been dead forever, so it's not as if they're supporting new fur business."

But retro trends inevitably inspire knockoffs.

Mariouche Gagne thinks it's ridiculous to buy new fur--real or fake (given its petrochemical content). "Recycling fur is a more logical, environmental choice," she says.

Gagne rescues and transforms coats, wool sweaters and leather jackets into accessories sold under the Montreal-based Harricana North Pole label. Beaver, fox, Chinese mink, astrakhan and other skins become handbags, backpacks, hats, mittens and scarves.

The designer explored the potential of recycling fur in her master's thesis in design management at the Domus Academy in Milan, Italy. After taking prizes in design contests in France, Japan and from the Fur Council of Canada, she returned home in 1994 to start her own line. After splitting recently with her business partners, Gagne added another, more fashion-forward label called Nomad. Harricana's sportier, unisex aesthetic appeals mostly to young funksters and the snowboard set. In Southern California, it's available at Crews of California and MW Partners, both in Los Angeles, and Elle European Collection in Rowland Heights.

"I wasn't going to destroy what I loved the most next to my family and friends," says Gagne, a snowboarder and kayaker herself. "I wanted to start a company that would help clean the planet instead of dirtying it any more."

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