ugg nieve Shearling Shows a Sleeker Face

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TWO years ago, Joan Kent, looking to buy a cold weather coat, emerged from a Searle store in Manhattan with a black, knee length shearling.

“It’s warm and real easy,” said Ms. Kent, a certified public accountant who lives in Macon, Ga. Half a year later, she bought another, slightly shorter shearling jacket, which comes in handy when she carpools and drives her two youngest school age children to soccer games. “It’s not a big, heavy, weigh you down coat,” she said.

But it was the well fitted contours and lines “the style of it,” she said that closed the deal. She said she would not have bought the coats, each in the $2,000 range, had they been available only in boxy styles.

Not long ago, any mention of shearling evoked the no nonsense costume of the Marlboro man. Those shearlings solid, square shaped and somewhat inflexible edifices of skin appeared to have the power to stand on their own, through sheer will. Shearling, however, has undergone a makeover. Now the brightly colored, shapely coats on fashion runways seem to have benefited from the South Beach Diet and a string of Pilates sessions.

Max Cantey, business development manager for Alexander McQueen, whose store on West 14th Street in Manhattan, in the meatpacking district, had a similar story about the short, old leather, hooded shearling jacket for women from the same designer; the jacket retails for $3,420. “That was a highly sought after item from the runway, and we sold out a long time ago,” he said. “Shearling today is very close to the body. I think that’s the way women want to look. That may be why shearling is on everybody’s wish list, and designers are catching on to that.”

Terry Thornton, vice president and district merchandise manager at Neiman Marcus, based in Dallas, called shearling’s sleeker style “an evolution in fashion,” pointing to this season’s “little, short, cropped shearling jacket” as the most fashionable piece.

But, Mr. Thornton said, “you can find shearling in almost all the departments we have contemporary, fur and ladies’ coats.” In the last three years, he said, total revenue from shearling at Neiman Marcus has doubled.

Part of shearling’s new allure lies in the improved ways of processing pelts. The outer part of a shearling garment is the original inner side of the sheep or lamb skin, and the garment’s curly, hairy lining is the animal’s fur. New technology has made the skins more supple, allowing designers to treat previously heavy, hard to manipulate skins as easily as fabric.

“They have new treatments to work these materials and make everything light, so you don’t look like King Kong,” said Cristiano Mancini, public relations director for the designer Roberto Cavalli, who has five stores in the United States and a factory in Florence, Italy.

The suggested prices for this season’s Cavalli shearlings, whose styles were inspired by czarist Russia,
ugg nieve Shearling Shows a Sleeker Face
run from $3,000 to $15,000, Mr. Mancini said, with the exception of the $30,000 full length, profusely embroidered version with rhinestones, Swarovski crystals, beads and sequins. “It’s a work of art,” he said.

For Mr. Mancini, a shearling “is a lifetime purchase, if you take care of it.”

“At the same time,” he added, “the more you wear it, it gets that vintage look that makes it even better.”

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June Ambrose, a fashion stylist and designer who last season customized a gray shearling jacket, inspired by 1980’s fashion, for the hip hop star Missy Elliott at a cost of about $4,000, suggests that entertainers have played a strong role in fueling consumer interest. Mary J. Blige and Kim Cattrall are shearling fans, she said.

Such influence “will obviously open the appetites up of young people to wear something other than fur,” she said.

But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals does not let shearling off the hook. “Most animals, including sheep, that are slaughtered for their skin, endure the horror of factory farming,” said Matt Rice, a PETA spokesman. “Because of what PETA considers inhumane treatment, it advocates not buying shearling and using an alternative.”

Consumers have a wide range of choices in shearling and faux shearling products, said Tricia Kenney, fashion director of the trade publication Outerwear. Calling 2004 “the ultimate year for shearling,” Ms. Kenney said the trend was propelled in part by color and by shearling’s availability in so many different coat styles, and in other clothing. “I would say the younger customer is probably buying smaller pieces at the higher end,” she said. “The boot, in particular, has a lot of style and attitude.”

And selling power. “We pretty much buy up all the sheepskin for footwear in the world,” said Connie Rishwain, president of Ugg Australia, a division of the Deckers Outdoor Corporation, based in Goleta, Calif. Ugg sells 70 styles of shearling boots, slippers and clogs and introduced a clothing line this year; the brand’s boots have retail prices of $110 to $275. Although the company makes no such recommendations on the boots’ care tags, Ms. Rishwain acknowledges immersing children’s boots in water to wash them, and then leaving them out to dry. “I’ve also spot cleaned them with suede cleaner, and it works,” she said. “With apparel, it might be different.”

Experts in the cleaning and repair of leather say a shearling garment’s encounter with water in the form of a sudden downpour or a splash from a passing car can lead to water marks and a hardening of the skin. Failing to clean the item regularly is also potentially harmful.

WAYNE EDELMAN, owner of Meurice Garment Care, in New York, said that there was such a fear of cleaning shearling, suede and leather goods that people let them become excessively dirty, even though the garments may have cost several thousand dollars. But even if owners are fastidious, he said, they “have to have realistic expectations about the serviceability and life span of the garment.”

“You’re not dealing with a ballistic nylon down jacket,” he said. “This is made from an animal skin, and there are limitations in terms of wear and tear.” There is also always the risk of color change and what seems to be shrinkage but is generally the skins’ return to a prestretched,
ugg nieve Shearling Shows a Sleeker Face
prefactory state.