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Fashion archive: London can’t get enough of Russian fur

Bailey And Shrimpton

Supermodel Jean Shrimpton wearing a fur coat in 1963. Photograph: Terry O’Neill/Getty Images

7 December 1960: In an increasingly wealthy Europe, fur has ceased to be the hallmark of privilege, moving into the realms of fashion

Fur, which was esteemed by the Chinese as long as 3.500 years ago, plays a very important part in Anglo-Russian trade today.

Throughout the ages fur has featured in some form of wearing apparel, but it was not until the Industrial Revolution in Britain and Western Europe, with its social upheaval and the diversification of wealth, that fur ceased to be the hallmark of privilege and moved into the realms of fashion. Though some furs remain in the “luxury class,” fur is now generally within the reach of most sections of the population.

Of approximately eighty Countries on all six continents contributing to the world supply of fur pelts, the Russian Federation, with its widely differing climatic conditions, contains a much greater variety of fur-bearing animals than any other single country, and naturally contributes a large proportion of the world supply of fur pelts.

The businesses of the many traders resident in Russia before 1917 were, in due course, brought together under the Soviet regime, to be formed into one State trading agency, ultimately known as Sojuzpushnina, an organisation formed to control both foreign and domestic marketing as well as internal buying. This agency has been in the past, and still is, conducting a large turnover in furs with Britain.

Vertical Red Fox Fur StrollerWhile home consumption of furs in Russia is considerable, foreign trade plays a large part. Three main marketing methods are employed: sale by auction, by private treaty, and by forward contract. In all these activities Britain figures prominently, benefiting especially and in many ways from the resultant entrepot trade.

Auctions today form the chief method of marketing furs. An auction in Leningrad is held annually by Sojuzpushnina in July, and during the year their selling brokers in London, Anning, Chadwick and Kiver Ltd conduct three main general fur auctions, six Persian lamb auctions, and two special mink auctions. These auctions attract buyers from all over the world, as well as home trade merchants, commission agents, and manufacturers. On the occasions of the larger auctions, the number of buyers present, or represented, may be upwards of three hundred, and the value of goods sold £2 million, with a gross annual turnover of up to £10 million. These auctions are favoured by Sojuzpushnina and are now recognised as establishing the index for market levels as each season progresses.

In addition to these auctions, goods consigned to London are also sold by private treaty after inspection of the goods in the brokers’ warehouse. Periodically articles are also sold for forward delivery, and a number of firms in London feature prominently in this type of business, purchasing on behalf of both home and overseas buyers.

The Russian agency, handling as it does all fur business from the Soviet Union, is able to adhere to a strict standard in the assortment of skins. Grading is according to these standards and gives buyers the necessary confidence for forward delivery.

In recent years a feature of the fur trade has been the trend towards ranched and farmed furs. Of special note here is the greatly increased output of ranched mink. Russia’s production has increased in keeping with the world trend, and their breeding activities extend to the now famous mutation mink.

Russia also carries out a policy of protecting animals by creating preserves. Notable among such species is the sable, the most highly prized of all the furs exported. Although America is the principal consumer of this article, Britain plays a large part in the marketing.

Although the bulk of the Anglo-Russian trade is in raw skins, large quantities of both dressed and dyed and semi-manufactured furs are traded. Of particular note in this category is dyed Persian lamb, which finds ready buyers from the Continent at the London auctions.

Supported by Sojuzpushnina, using London as its main export outlet, the entrepot trade enjoyed by the British fur trade must count as an important factor in Britain’s economy. Of the total value imported only a small proportion is consumed in this country in comparison with the amount exported. The increasing prosperity in both Europe and America has enabled London not only to maintain but to strengthen its position as the centre of the international fur trade, with Russian furs enjoying the prestige their quality and variety so richly deserves.

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