Helen Ubinas: When the subject is fur, just prepare to be pelted

Posted: February 08, 2013

I THINK IT WAS the homeless woman wearing a tattered floor-length mink that convinced me that Philly is a big fur town.

I see them everywhere. Flared sables with shawl collars walking down Market. Fox cuffs and trim waiting for the train. Fitted Texas raccoons headed to lunch and dinner. Jersey black muskrats off to the theater. Both men and women.

Don't get nervous. I'm not going to go all PETA on you - in fact, the opposite: fur put food on my table, clothes on my back. It helped pay for college.

Yeah, I'm a huge animal-lover. But I also learned early on that ethical high horses are often a luxury sport for people who can afford it.

And there are responsible ways to wear fur. Vintage anyone? Greene Street Consignment donates 40-50 percent of all their fur sales to Greene Street Animal Rescue.

You'd think all this personal background would have endeared me to the furrier on Walnut Street.


"I just hope you're righteous," Andre Ferber said when, after I had done everything but tap-dance to try to convince him that I wasn't some PETA mole, I pulled the plug on the painful interview.

It didn't matter how many times I told him that my father was a career furrier who was just 18 when he started.

Or how many stories I shared about watching him staple a bunch of soggy pelts onto boards before transforming them into coats that ladies oohed and ahhed over.

I thought for sure I'd charm him with the story about my 6-foot-2 dad doing his best Huggy Bear as he stared down a bunch of pepperoni pizza-eating fur protesters in the biggest man-fur I've ever seen.

But, polite as Ferber was, he mostly gave me the hairy eyeball.

And he wasn't the only one. "Who are you, again? What are you doing? No, you cannot have my name," spat the woman wearing a fitted, black glamour mink. Swank-y.

I didn't help my case by sporting a cheap synthetic puff jacket. But then, I have a complicated relationship with furs. Until recently, I've been swatting them away at every turn.

My father tried to get his three girls, fresh out of the womb, to wear furs; he was proud of his trade. He considered it an art form. And it is.

But while I didn't necessarily have an issue against wearing them back then, I had other, good reasons to stay away:

"Papi, nobody wears a fur coat to public school. What are you trying to do, make me less popular?"

"Papi, I write about poor and dead people for a living. Fur isn't appropriate crime-scene attire."

"The media has vilified the fur industry," Ferber said.

I don't know about that. But over the years I've gotten plenty of judgey stares after sharing my father's occupation.

"He's not the guy that kills the animals," I'd take great pains to tell people who stared at me like I just told them my dad was "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

"He's the guy who makes the fur coats."

I have no idea why I thought the distinction was important, but I did.

Fur dictated the direction of my family's life. When the fur business started slowing down in New York, we moved out of our house and into an apartment. When the fur trade dried up, we moved to Connecticut. (During my senior year of high school . . . not that I'm still bitter about that or anything.) And when it slowed down there, we went to Massachusetts . . . before heading back to Connecticut, where my father is still a furrier.

Once, my dad even toyed with the idea of chasing furs into Texas. When I bemoan the roads not traveled, that's one I'm glad we didn't go down.

I remember being so frustrated with my father's devotion to his craft that I promised myself that I'd never, ever be so blindly passionate about a job that I wouldn't walk away from when it started to tank.

So, of course, I became a newspaper reporter.

Go on, Philly, wear that fur.

And buy a newspaper while you're at it.

Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

" @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen. Ubinas

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