Yves Salomon: re-using, remodelling fur

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Friday, January 18th 2019
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Following our discussion before Christmas about waste in the clothing industry, I was interested to learn about the remodelling and re-use of fur at Yves Salomon.

Yves Salomon is one of the best fur workshops in the world. Based in Paris, it makes coats for many of the big fashion and couture designers.

Just over a decade ago, it went through a transition we’ve seen across menswear, of shifting to becoming a brand - with its own design and retail.

This makes its products good for value for money compared to those designers. However, most of them will not be to the taste of Permanent Style readers, being too fashion-led.

What's more interesting is that as part of opening a new store in London, Yves Salomon kept on the fur workshop downstairs.

The shop they took over, on Conduit Street in Mayfair, used to be Hockley.

Hockley was once a mainstay of luxury fashion in London, selling its own coats but also making on the premises. It was part of a network of craftspeople in London that included General Leather Company (now Cromford), among others.

Yves Salomon took the opportunity to buy Hockley’s space when it was closing down and kept on the leather workshop, adding its makers to the team.

So as a result we have a reinvigorated luxury workshop in the middle of town, able to do everything from create fur linings to repair old coats, as well as design new ones.

Now, I’m not going to get into a discussion here about fur in general. I’d love to have one, but I think it should be saved for a post that has space to explore it fully.

For the moment, suffice it to say that plastic clothing such as faux fur is no kind of alternative. Gaining PR points by pushing disposable versions of this is something the fashion industry is particularly guilty of.

An informed and balanced discussion on these topics would be great at some point - perhaps even as a Symposium.

At Yves Salomon, the piece that impressed me most was a coat made entirely of scraps (above).

A pale yellow colour, on the outside it looked just like a textured fur. But on the inside, you could see how all the small pieces had been painstakingly sewn together, in order to make something out of cut-offs.

“That really appeals to a lot of customers,” says a spokesperson. “We waste so little in fur production because it's so valued. If there’s one small bucket of cut-offs at the end of the day, that’s a lot. But it’s nice to re-use even that.”

Looking at the size of that bucket, it was hard not to recall the various suit and shoe manufactures I’ve visited over the years, which will often have piles of wool or leather scraps built up in the corners.

Of the various coats being worked on around the Salomon workshop, most were remodelling jobs: where a customer brings in an inherited coat to re-cut into something new.

“Until the 1960s, fur coats really were seen as heirlooms,” the spokesperson says. “They were passed from generation to generation, because they were seen as so valuable. Much more than suits.”

Women often bring in their mother’s or grandmother’s coats to have them remodelled.

The grey mink below, for example, was made from a third-generation coat that was cut with new, diagonal panels, and given a hood.

Sometimes coats are too short for a new owner, in the body but particularly in the sleeves.

“There’s always something we can do with it, though,” says the spokesperson. “A customer recently had a brown sable coat made into a gilet, for example, and used the pieces left over to line another coat.”

Coats can also be merged together. Indeed, a coat using more than one colour might look rather more contemporary than the original.

Small pieces are re-used for gloves, muffs or boot linings.

From a style point of view, I’ve never been a big fan of the way fur is used in menswear.

It’s not too bad on the collar of a leather jacket, but on the lapels and collar of an overcoat, it always looks too showy.

Much better is using it as a removable lining.

Fur is incredibly warm, and doesn’t have to be that thick. One of the reasons mink was so popular was that it could be quite thin, and therefore line a coat without adding much bulk.

I’m not sure it would work to add a lining to a bespoke overcoat, unless it was cut with that layer in mind. The coat would likely already be cut too close to the body.

However, a fur lining can work well in looser cut jackets or coats - which is how I decided to commission something.

My vintage field jacket has long lost its lining, but still has the buttons inside to fasten one to. So we decided to make a fur lining that could be attached to them.

It will be made out of re-used rabbit fur, which is not as expensive as mink or sable and has a lovely variation in its colouring.

And, importantly for me, it will be set back rather from the front edge. This will mean that even when the jacket is open, the fur will barely be visible.

Like many of the best things in menswear, it will be something usually only I will appreciate.

I’ll follow up on that, and the craft side that goes into making such a piece, later in the year.

In the meantime, I highly recommend going in and talking to the team about any old coat you might have, whether to repair or re-make. Contact details here.

Few things are more satisfying that finding a new use for - and therefore new value in - something so beautiful.

Photography: James Holborow