If you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal (pricey) or to the Morning Roundup digest that our Lance Turner delivers to 19,000 email addresses every weekday morning (free), you know that North Little Rock businesswoman Gina Radke was famous last week.
The WSJ story wasn’t about Galley Support Innovations, the business she and her husband, Wade, own in Sherwood and where she is CEO. Nor was it about her book, “More Than: How to Be Bold and Balanced in Life and Business.” The story by fashion writer Ray A. Smith was headlined “The Awkward Heirloom,” and it was about the conflict young women feel about the fur coats that were a coveted status symbol for their grandmothers’ generation.
This is an Opinion
“Families with vintage fur coats are grappling with a generational divide over an issue also roiling fashion and politics,” read the subhead, and Radke was the poster child for the issue at hand. Last year, she posted on Instagram a photo of herself wearing the mink coat her grandmother bought in the 1970s and handed down, but she included a hashtag signaling her position on the fur industry: #nonewfurs.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of Radke’s attitude toward fur — “I don’t buy new furs. I don’t want to contribute to that market.” — and that of her grandmother, Helen Webb, who rewarded herself with her first long mink after she got back on her financial feet after a divorce in her 30s. Wearing fur “was a lifestyle for me,” Mrs. Webb said. “I’ve never given a thought about a dead animal on me.”
Animal rights activists — a term I find imprecise — have clearly made younger generations think differently about fur than my mother’s generation. Even those of us who rarely go a full day without eating meat and wearing leather don’t seem to crave fur. I rarely see women of any age in furs these days — not even the rabbit-fur jackets that were trendy when I was in high school.
As the WSJ reported, “Gucci, Prada and other fashion houses and retailers have sworn off fur. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s said last year they will stop selling fur by the end of fiscal 2020.” Still, I never gave any thought to the morality of wearing the fur of a mink that, as Mrs. Webb said, “has been dead 60 years!” — probably because there is so much of it.
Unlike scarce and endangered materials — rosewood, elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and the like — there is a glut of mink, new and vintage. According to the Fur Commission USA, an organization of mink farmers, the value of the 2018 crop ($82.6 million) was the lowest in decades because the average price per pelt is half what it was five years ago.
As I boasted in this space last week, I am an aficionado of estate sales, and I see a lot of lovely furs, from super-creepy glass-eyed fox stoles to enormous full-length coats that seem utterly useless in these latitudes. And while a vintage fur coat is still more expensive than I usually spend on a Saturday morning prowl, it certainly wouldn’t be a major investment even for a person of modest means. And if almost anyone can own one, what’s the point of having one?
Even Gina Radke wore her beloved grandmother’s furs so rarely that “Nana” has taken them back to live at her house.
Furs are not the only heirlooms that younger women are ambivalent about. Tracee Herbaugh wrote an essay for the Associated Press last month headlined “Millennials threaten fine china industry with total lack of interest.”
While the headline is certainly true, the article itself had less to do with the fortunes of makers of fine china than about the struggle to find someone who wants grandma’s china. For Mrs. Webb’s generation, formal dinnerware was a status symbol like fur, and my generation typically registered china patterns (at Dillard’s, naturally) as part of wedding preparation. Enormous sums have been spent on china and crystal, and on appropriate furniture in which to store and display these treasures.
And guess what? My generation rarely used them, and most of our kids aren’t interested. But some are, and there truly is no financial obstacle to setting a beautiful table these days. Full sets of glorious china in pristine condition can be had for less than the price of a nice dinner.
The Wall Street Journal article explored the idea of “restyling” vintage furs, which would certainly add to the cost of enjoying them. That’s not the kind of repurposing that most of us can do at home.
The lovely photos of Gina Radke and her Nana in the Wall Street Journal were taken by Karen E. Segrave, a Little Rock freelancer who does a lot of work for Arkansas Business. I guess WSJ readers deserve the kind of quality that our subscribers enjoy.
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Email Gwen Moritz, editor of Arkansas Business, at GMoritz@ABPG.com and follow her on Twitter at @gwenmoritz.