Montreal and an old hat

Last week we made a quick trip to Montreal, greeted on Groundhog's Day by a blizzard that dumped over 40cm (17 inches) of snow, socking in the city.

Once of the great pleasures of the two day trip was an evening with son Etienne and his sweetie, Tash, at Liverpool House, for I had a gift for him. While cleaning out the basement as part of the prep for selling this house (staging a basement means it must look like you never kept anything in it), I found, sealed into a canister, a beaver hat.

Archie and Frances LaFreniere
The trapper-style hat was a gift to my Dad from a grateful patient, Mr. Archie LaFreniere of Beaver Island, Michigan, circa 1962; he trapped the beaver himself.

Beaver Island is one of the wild outposts, an island in Lake Michigan flung into the Straits of Mackinac. When I was growing up, few people lived there and fewer visited, but in the mid-1800s it was briefly home to an "American monarchy" led by James Strang, a Mormon leader.

Nearly fifty years later, supple and intact, it was a perfect fit on Etienne's head, plush and warm.

And so, fur

It's a fraught subject, with many rejecting all fur, even recycled, while others assert that it is a 'sustainable resource'. I'm in the middle, having grown up and lived in northern communities where the fur trade is a livelihood. One of Mom's best friends owned a mink ranch. 

Izzy Camielleri is a talented Toronto designer who specializes in leather and fur. She's recently launched Izma, a collaboration with fashion journalist Adrien Mainella. The complete lookbook is online. Izma uses Origin Assured pelts, which means that the fur comes from a country where regulations concerning welfare and production are in force.

A example of Izma's exhilarating style, a v-neck tunic in long-haired beaver:

A swing coat in natural muskrat:

 I wear fur, currently, a 12 year-old sheared mink duffle coat, a 26 year-old raccoon hat and a fox scarf made from recycled goods. I also wear leather and eat meat, with gratitude to the animals. 

Last month I bought one of those down coats that make everyone look like a walking sleeping bag. (And in case you think down is gathered from what's left behind in the nest, it is not.)

When wearing fur, I've had only two incidents of negative comments in forty years, one when wearing a sheared beaver swing coat that my mother owned for several decades, then passed to me. 

I asked the woman who accosted me on the steps of the library how many resources had been expended on the various coats she had purchased while Mom or I were wearing this coat over thirty-five years. (To be fair, I could only make this point with a long-wearing fur like beaver.)

The second incident happened when I was wearing a fake fur!

Montreal is an historic fur centre, and as expected, I saw more (mostly mink) on its streets than in Toronto and down-stuffed parkas on nearly everyone, infants to elders. There's less angst about animal products when temps dip below -20C.

Etienne in Gramps' hat
And that 50 year old hat? Warmed my heart and his head.


I love fur; and although I don't own any real fur, I see nothing wrong with it. (I also wear leather and love red meat.)
Toby Wollin said…
ooo, what a gorgeous hat. Just lovely. One of my regrets is that I had basically no relationship to my grandfather, who was a furrier and who had his own business when my father was young. He ended up in Las Angeles, making fur coats for starlets and the wives of movie executives. He was someone who because he'd gotten his papers when he was 18, just before he came to the US from Russia, knew how to make a fur coat literally from the ground up. He taught certain things to my father but since my dad had a difficult relationship with him, that knowledge never got passed down, which I regret. I'm not sure where you draw the line between, say, lamb and sheepskins, which have been raised on a ranch or farm or other animals which may or may not have been raised. And depending on where you live in the country, your state environmental folks may be telling people that beavers or other wild animals are at levels where they need to be harvested so that the rest will remain healthy. Hard to choose.
Susan B said…
How nice that your son can use that beautiful hat! Here in LA, we don't have much cause to wear fur, so it's easy for people to be righteous about it. At Colorado ski resorts, one sees fur coats and lots of them; some are really stunning.

My step-mother now has a mink 3/4 sleeve coat that belonged to my grand-mere. I've let her know in no uncertain terms that I'd like to have it when she's done with it. ;-)
Darla said…
Like Deja Pseu I live in an area where fur isn't really needed. I have no problem with other folks wearing it tho. Then again I tend to mind my own business in general, LOL!

I think it is terrific that you could pass the hat down to your son.

Susan said…
Thank you for the link to the look book. Those are some amazing furs! I was surprised to see that a number of them were coyote fur! We have coyote in abundance at our farm. They are overpopulating and a danger to cattle. Many farmers shoot them on sight. I never dreamed that their fur could be used in clothing.
Unknown said…
This is a hard subject. I probably grew up anti-fur because I saw too many wealthy Americans wearing it just to flaunt wealth - but my husband's family is from NE Canada, and fur IS warmer (that's why I saw so many fur hats in Eastern Europe too).

Also, in my opinion, if I eat meat but have issues with leather and fur, I'm being intellectually dishonest. If one is immoral, aren't they all questionable? (I am of course excepting any practices of extreme cruelty here.)

So when I got to the decision tree of 1) vegan, 2) shoot and clean my own meat so I am reminded that it doesn't come from a lab wrapped in plastic or, 3) do the best you can - I chose 3. Eat local meat, take good care of my leather goods, and I may wear shearling/fur when it makes sense (but NOT only to look like a wealthy suburbanite).
Northmoon said…
What a wonderful gift for your son.

I wished I had a fur coat this morning! In extremely cold temperatures nothing is as warm as fur, not even down coats.
Artful, I feel a bit as you do about fur. My mum bought herself a black beaver coat as a young war worker in Ottawa - it was NOT a luxury, and while it was a big expense, she could afford it on her modest salary. There were no alternatives as warm, and not only did few war workers own cars, even public transport was a bit scarce since the war effort was a priority for fuel use. And the winters here (Ottawa and Mtl are not far apart, and have similar climates, though we also have the joy of being a damp island) were much more severe back then.

But when living in Italy I'd see fur used only as a statement of wealth and status, in an utterly inappropriate climate for it (and people in Alpine regions tend to dress more in sporty garments). The summum of that crap was Michèle Bennet Duvalier turning up the air conditioning in the Port-au-Prince presidential palace so she could strut around in her furs and the ludicrous shoe collection all dictators' wives seem to get off on.

Fur coats are warm, but they can also be very heavy, and our climate is no longer always suited for them (it rained yesterday). I don't really like them on me, but I like those puffy coats even less...

Susan, all the fur trim on a popular parka brand here is sourced from (overabundant) coyotes. Another false environmental issue - in a world where there are so many real and dire environmental questions - was the agitation for a ban on seal products in Europe. The seal species killed for these products is very far from endangered, and killing them is no crueller than killing animals for meat, and they live far more pleasant lives beforehand. (There is no more clubbing of seal cubs).

Hadley Freeman, a style writer at the Guardian, thinks fur is in poor taste on men or women, but she is writing in London where the winter cold is more of the bone-chilling damp variety, not bitter cold, and fur is worse than useless. (One needs cashmere, under something water-resistant). Tonnes of comments!

Étienne's hat looks very cool. Or rather, warm.
Duchesse said…
Sandy: I've had several fake fur coats which were fun and warm.

Toby: What a story (and I'm guessing your grandfather had many of his own.) I tried on a sheepskin coat by Christ in Jan., truly featherweight, a real stunner. Still, $3,000 on sale.

Pseu: Hope you get the coat! Many women here have those relined in something like fuchsia satin.

seeyou: I heard a woman in a mink being yelled at; she responded "And I have TWO MORE in my closet!" They are no longer accepting the abuse.

lagatta: Fur is expensive compared to fabric, and *anything* expensive can be used as an ostentatious display of wealth.

But ordinary people have for centuries used fur because there is nothing like it, often buying secondhand. A fur does not have to be heavy, the better construction techniques yield light, warm garments.

When raccoons broke into my basement and caused over $4,000 of damage (while I was away for the weekend) that my insurance would not cover, I thought hard about trapping them myself and eventually wearing them.

I owned two sheepskin coats years ago but found them very heavy (mine were not high quality) so gave them away.

Artful: That's where I am too. But where I live, if one wants to look like a wealthy suburbanite it is about the the biggest SUV you can buy, or a Lamborghini not necessarily fur.

There are a lot of secondhand furs for sale in the funky vintage stores, kids buy them and wear them over denim jackets.

I saw a reedy little teen in a mini made from a mink stole, worn over thermal longjohns!

Northmoon: That sheared mink duffle: bought on eBay for about $1200, worth every penny.
Tiffany said…
I do love the look of fur, but I have had reservations about the treatment of animals raised for fur. I certainly eat meat and wear leather - as you say, with gratitude to the animals - generally imagining (hoping) that the leather is a by-product. I do have one delicious fur trimmed coat (my MIL's) but I've never worn any other fur (not that we have cause in Sydney) ... I also like your point about wearing something for a long time - it's easy to be judgemental about fur and yet not take into account the ecological effect of consumption generally.
What a sweet gift for your son. I love fur and think it is so nasty when people feel they can physically attack others for wearing it.
Anonymous said…
You shouldn't have a problem in Montreal; EVERYBODY wears fur there!
Rubiatonta said…
I'm with you on being grateful to the "previous owner" for providing me with leather and meat. And I've been so cold and felt so frumpy this winter, if I could afford a fur, I'd buy one, right this instant.

In fact, I'm seriously considering getting a merino shearling 3/4 coat at the end of the season, if I can snag one online at a decent price.

The only extant furs in the family belong to my teensy weensy gran, who still wears them when she ventures out in the cold. She's spent most of this winter as a "hothouse flower," though.
Mardel said…
I love fur, although admittedly mostly because it is warm and can be soft, and although I love winter I hate feeling cold. I have a fur coat and I have a down coat too. I do have some issues with ostentation and find myself most uncomfortable when it is the aspect of luxury that is called to attention, more so than the moral or ethical questions, with which I have made my own terms. Fur is an easy target to attack and does not require great thought or sacrifice, bringing a feeling of virtue without inconvenience of responsibility.

Where I live too, it is the large SUV that marks one as a wealthy suburbanite.

How wonderful for your son that you found the hat and were able to give it to him.
Paula said…
Hello Duchesse! Une femme d'un certain age suggested I go and aks for your advice of .... Pearls!
A Honora-ad caught my eyes: baroque sweet water-pearls in denim blue and rusty red. I haven't heard of the brand until I saw the ad. Yay, advertising works. I just know, they have a show at QVC. What is your opinion on Honora pearls? The range of colours is amazing, also the styles (round, ringed, baroque, large, small ...). I would not consider them being cheap but affordable.
It is a pitty there is no shop around in Vienna, I would love to touch them before buying.

Sorry for going really off topic with this comment but I just could not wait for the next posting on pearls to come. Now I will dig into your 25 "pearls"-tagged postings.
Thank you for your expertise.
Duchesse said…
Rubi: Check out eBay. many bricks and mortar furriers sell there, so they have good return policies. (As I commented, I got my sheared mink duffle for $1200, later appraised at $8500.) Or... visit me in Mtl next fall and we;ll go shopping!

Mardel: I like hip furs like the Izma coat shown, rather than the big flashy full length coats.

Paula: I'll be honest, which will sound blunt: I would not buy these pearls. Honora are a mass market brand and very successful selling through QVC etc. mostly to people who do not know much. It is only low quality pearls that are dyed those "fashion" colours like denim blue, red and chocolate brown. A good pearl has its own beautiful natural colour, from pure white through pinks and greys to nearly black.

I am not against all dyed pearls. Some unevenly coloured pearls benefit greatly from dying. But the obviously fake colours like red are rather like the poodles I used to see in the 50s dyed pink or green, a distortion of the essence. And you will likely tire of them.

If you want coloured beads, buy quartz, jade, crystal or other minerals. If you are looking for a vendor of very good pearls, consider Pearl Paradise (USA) or Pearls of Joy (UK) for classics. If you like more unusual pearls, I recommend Kojima Company (USA). Each of these companies serve international customers.

Since you wrote me, I am putting up a pearl post tomorrow.
Paula said…
Thank you so much! I love the comparison with the poodles. :-D Curious to see what you will have to say in pearls in your upcoming posting. And yes, there are so many materials available for coloured beads. It seems as if I am just at the beginning of a long, pleasant journey to come.
materfamilias said…
What a wonderful gift for your son -- a useful and attractive piece of family heritage.
My eye was also caught by the name of the trapper -- my grandmother's mother was a Lafrenièe, so the man may have been some distant cousin several times removed . . .
materfamilias said…
Whoops, excuse the typo (and the disrespect to my maternal forebears! -- Lafrenière, of course.
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Beaver Island, just 80-odd miles for the Canadian border, has a number of families descended from French-Canadians. Who knows, he may well be a relative!

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