JoAnn Elliott’s grandmother left her a mink cape when she died, but it was too small for Elliott and hung in her closet virtually untouched for 27 years.
But after hearing about a woman who could rework the cape into something else, Elliott took it to the shop of Shirley DeMay in St. Louis. DeMay immediately took out a piece of paper and began to draw a jacket. Elliott couldn’t visualize it in her mind, but agreed to it anyway. She also gave DeMay a mink coat that had belonged to her sister-in-law to use for the design.
The end result was a mink jacket with a sable collar at a cost of $600. Elliot, 74, of Florissant, says the jacket is a head turner.
“I get so many compliments,” Elliott said. “It makes an old lady feel good.”
The restyling, remodeling and repurposing of older fur coats is a growing segment of the fur market, market watchers say. Fur is unique among other textiles in offering the possibility of repurposing and remodeling as coats can be taken apart and re-created with matching skins where necessary, according to Keith Kaplan, executive director of Fur Information Council of America. Popular styles for remodeling include vests, boleros and fur-lined outerwear.
“There is a tremendous growth in restyling,” Kaplan said. “You can take it and make all kinds of things out of it.”
It’s a trend that businesses like DeMay’s have focused on — giving new life to old-fashioned furs with sentimental value, to looks that are too formal for the owner today, and to grandma’s old hand-me-down that sat in storage for years.
“I’ll take your coat that is outdated, that you might have inherited, and redesign it to give you the latest style,” DeMay said.
DeMay works from a shop at 2020 Cherokee Street on Cherokee Row. She opened her store in 1991 but started out in the business at the Fur and Leather Centre in 1979.
Sue Hodapp had DeMay redesign a floor-length raccoon coat her husband bought her 25 years ago at Bloomingdale’s in New York for $2,500. She is 5 feet 3 inches tall and the coat was within six inches of her feet.
“It kept me warm for 25 years,” she said, but it was time for an update. “It’s really long, and it didn’t fit with my lifestyle now.”
DeMay cut the coat down to just above Hodapp’s knee and made the piece into a swing coat.
“It’s gorgeous,” said Hodapp, who moved to Montana earlier this year but still refers friends to DeMay. “She could not have done a better job.”
DeMay persuaded a man who came in to trade his mother’s high-quality fur for a lower-quality one with a more updated style to instead let her rework the hand-me-down. She cut the cape into a coat and hat he was pleased with. For another man who brought in his mother’s furs, DeMay made a throw.
Carol Hawn, a sales representative for the Fur and Leather Centre in Clayton, said more people are bringing in outdated or too-formal furs in to be reworked. The Fur and Leather Centre recently sponsored a restyle clinic at its Clayton location.
Hawn said some of the work is done on site, while more elaborate pieces are done at another location within the company.
“We have many people who have their grandmother’s garment that doesn’t fit the person it was given to,” Hawn said. “We can reshape it to fit that person it was given to. That’s where that sentimental value is carried on.”