I bought it in "as new" condition (except for someone's monogram in the lining), wore it only in the harshest Toronto weather and sent it to cold storage each spring, so it was in good shape– but, as you can see in the shot above, it had not really been à la mode since Celine Dion sang in French.
A reno seemed a good idea, but I sought an expert opinion about whether that was worth undertaking.
Browsing and thinking
There are so many furriers here! My inquiries led me only to references far from where I live. One day last spring, walking down a quiet block on Laurier St., I noticed the salon of Dominique Ouzilleau, a third-generation furrier. He was welcoming, patient with my shaky French, and best of all, seemed intrigued by the project.
I took a long time checking out his designs (the only pieces he sells.) He's known for edgy, glam furs, and is especially proud that his team can produce colours seen nowhere else. My taste is far more conservative, but still, I was attracted by his flamboyance and innovation. Like the shy-guy accountant who meets Carson Kressley, I wanted that little zhuzh.
I dropped off the coat; he called to say the skins were in great shape, and gave me a quote.
Design meeting: Yves of construction
Since Mr. O. and I were both dealing in our second languages, Le Duc accompanied me to ensure the words "sober", "strict" and "quiet" were transmitted loud and clear.
Le Duc told him that the duffle was St. Laurent's preferred topper, day or night. I bought a photo of a YSL woman's model, which he stuck to the work order.
Feeling certain he understood my preferences, I paid a 30% deposit and–game on!
Fitting #1: Toile and trouble
I left the first fitting feeling flatter than a beaver's tail; the toile looked dowdy and uninspired, and nothing like the YSL coat. But Mr. Ozilleau took at least two dozen measurements and markings, so there seemed to be some point. Writing the cheque for the next 30% was not fun. I worried that I'd end up with a stiff, stodgy coat, maybe even worse than the original.
This is the risk of custom work.
A month later a friend who works on the street told me the shop had closed, but it turned out to be only for summer holidays. ("He's a furrier, it's August, relax", Le Duc said.) Still, I fretted.
Fitting #2: Recut and reassured
Mr. O.'s team had entirely recut the body and he was quietly confident at our early October meeting. Reunited with the supple glow of the newly-conditioned pelts, my mink mojo returned. I was prepared to replace the lining, thinking about a tartan or ruby satin, but Mr. O. said the existing chocolate-brown fabric was in perfect condition–it would be removed, cleaned and recut. How many couturiers would do that?
At this fitting, we discussed buttons and closure. I brought vintage buttons from Tender Buttons in New York; Mr. O. approved. (He advised against a toggle-and-loop fastening due to that closure's repetitive friction at the front placket.) This is the only fur coat I plan to own, and I agreed. He also suggested the more streamlined set-in pocket, instead of patch version on the YSL coat.
Three weeks passed, but this time, calmly.
The reveal: A sleek, discreet duffle
The new coat has a much slimmer, semi-fitted body, higher armholes and sleeves that no longer resemble muffs. The hood is edged with a swath of long-haired mahogany mink, for that tweak I sought. The few incipient balding spots at the corners have vanished. The coat hangs beautifully and fits, well, like it was made for me.
I was also impressed by his attentiveness and focus. He said he likes to meet clients more often than necessary to gain a clearer idea of their vision and preferences.
Cost for the reno: $800, as quoted. Given the work and the cost of several friends' fur renos, this was a reasonable price. Two weeks later I brought in a friend who had a chic fur vest made from an old coat.
The new label reads "Dominique Ouzilleau Haute Fourrure" and I'm a delighted client. Let it snow!