BFTA Member of the Month – Introducing Emilou Fur

Thursday 17th May 2018

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BFTA would like to introduce our newest member, Emilou Fur.

How did you start out as a furrier?

I was persuaded by my tutor at Northumbria University to enter the BFTA Fur Design Competition. I must have had an epiphany during my visit to the BFTA as a finalist, as I ended up buying an antique (motorless!) fur machine and making half of my graduate collection from fur. I have developed my skills a lot since then thanks to Fur Europe’s summer school in Kastoria and working with BFTA Member, Chris Courtenay Williams. I still consider myself a learner, collecting what books are available on working with fur and photographing the insides of vintage coats if I’m taking them apart to remodel.

While the technical and creative aspects of working as a furrier are very important to me, I am also keen to be involved in other aspects of the trade. I recently taught a short course on bag making at Centria University, Finland, and am planning to go again this year to teach a course on designing for a portfolio. I also attended a conference in Budapest last year with Fur Europe and sat on a panel to discuss conservation of youth skills in the fur industry. I also think that it is vital to maintain good connections with the entire supply chain and so far I have visited four farms and worked in collaboration with one in particular in Finland.

What do you love most about working with fur?

Kiki Papadioti, Head of Design at CPL in Siatista told me a few years ago that ‘once you’ve worked with fur, you always work with fur’. I think that’s entirely true. I have most certainly fallen in love with the material and I do remember that the first time I saw a selection of Saga Fur’s samples, I was astonished at what could be achieved with fur. I’ve seen Saga Fur’s samples a few times and it still conjures the same feeling! It never gets boring for me, and it appeals to my detail-oriented nature. The critical path of designing and producing fur is more engaging and appealing to me than the production of other types of garments (which I have experienced, having also worked as a pattern cutter in a ‘fast fashion’ setting).

I also have opportunities to meet interesting individuals, and I have found the network of people involved in fur to be warm and welcoming. Sometimes I feel a little lonely working in the north (especially when I’m crawling around on the floor, removing staples from a skin and usually destroying my hands and knees in the process, which is not one of the most glamorous aspects of my fur production) but I know that I have some great connections and opportunities, which makes every day working with fur feel fresh and exciting.

What do you see as the challenges?

I’m only going to mention in passing that there are obvious challenges in the perception of fur, and I have certainly had my fair share of rude comments. Mentions of fur in politics and the media can cause anxiety for all of us in the trade, even if it’s only because of tedious repetition! However, in general, because I’m busy, I’m content. The main challenge for me is that because I have come into this line of work as a new individual, it’s quite hard to decide where to take my ideas next. My goal is to produce a collection and to solidify myself as a brand, and I certainly have contact with a number of manufacturers who could help me, but before risking potential financial backing, in my somewhat isolated position, I need to make sure that I’m not ‘designing in a vacuum’ and risking an unsuccessful concept in this costly material.

Aside from that, I think the main issue is time – I have had some extremely unusual requests for fur and other products, ranging from home accessories to hats to gloves and more. Because fur is no simple material to work with, these products take energy to develop and make, and with no team of people to do the individual tasks of nailing, sewing, lining etc. the modern furrier is forced to act as a one-man band (though I do now have a machine with a motor)! I’m quite sure I make things harder for myself because of the scope of what I want to do and make. However, I am grateful for the fact that I essentially have endless opportunities to learn, because every new job presents a new challenge.

What does Sustainability mean to you?

An important part of the value chain is the dressing of fur, and I have taken opportunities to visit two major tanning facilities in Greece where I learned about the processes of dressing and dying skins, including methods of water and energy recycling. I am hoping to broaden my knowledge in this area in order to be able to discuss the ever improving sustainability of fur, which already has the advantages of a long cradle-to-grave lifespan (especially with the possibility of remodelling) and usage of waste, including fur scraps for platework and farm waste for biofuel.