The rise of furs as a symbol of luxury
The first dress of humans on the planet, apart the biblical leave of Adam and Eve, was the animals’s skin, fur, which during the following centuries was tanned and sewed in order to follow the silhouette of the body.
The business of furs, at the time of the first civilizations, was the most important way to earn money or to do exchanges of goods. Leather was infact considered as money as evidenced by the fact that the latin word “pecunia” (money) derives from the word “pecus” (animals).
Furs are compared with richness too, because in the past they were only worn by kings or clergymen. They symbolized a status of power: at the time of roman empire, for example, furs were not only used for sheltering the body from the cold, but they were also a symbol for luxury and elegance. The historian Ovidio described hats made of fur, called “pellibus tecta tempora” and Plauto, in his comedies, described the art of being furriers.
From the Middle-Ages to the 19th century
During the Middle Ages furs were the most special part of a men’s wardrobe. Carlo Magno used to wear tunics lined with fox and ermine for ceremonies but, even he, as a king, was worried about the high cost of those furs. Consequently he made a law, which fixed the prices and limited the use of furs of otter, marten and wild cat.
Despite the laws people still adorned their bodies with priceless furs (the most fashionable were the sable and the squirrel), while the number of artisans, who worked the animal skins was rising (in Paris in 1272 there were 274 furriers, who had to prove their skills and pass exams in order to be part of that category).
In Italy, Florence and Venice were the most fashionable cities of the time. We are aware of that fact, because Tiziano Vecellio, great painter and also alert chronicler, wrote this few words: “At the beginning of november, aristocratic people use to wear ermine capes and light fur capes, wrapped with velvet belts with silver buckles. When the winter season increases the cold, furs become heavier, to keep the body warmer. Ladies uses to wear a brocade vest, lined with fur and they carry a sleeve, in order to keep their hands warm”.
Another fashionable item for men and women was very similar to our modern jacket fur: they called it “pelliccione”, a hooded coat made with lion, fox or lynx fur and rimmed with ermine.
Due to the excessive use of these furs, severe laws were made again, to reduce the number of them that each person could own: in Geneve, in 1693, women were forbidden to wear sable fur (if they dared to do that, they were segregated at home for three months), except for brides, who could wear luxury furs for only four days after their marriage. In several regions, ladies could wear furs after paying taxes to the goverment.
Nevertheless, fur business increased its revenues: the majority of religious architectural projects of the time were funded by that, giving the community the most magnificent cathedrals to admire.
During the 18th century furs were used as decorations on garments and accessories and during the 19th century furs adorned skirts and capes: ruched and liners were made from fox, ermine, otter or beaver furs, mostly imported from north America.
The geography of furs
The geographic origin of furs changed through the centuries and it’s strictly connected to territorial discoveries: before the european colonization of Americas furs were imported from the north of Europe. After that, several companies were founded, trying to run business across the ocean.
The “Hudson’s Bay Company” founded in 1670 in London made a fortune in Canada and North America importing several kind of furs, including silver, light blue, white and red foxes.
Another big company developed business in Asia during the 16th century as the Stroganov family hunted animals in Siberia for the Tsar and the entire royal family.
In 1867 the region of Alaska was sold from Russia to USA to increase the fur business, which has never known crisis.
Even nowadays furs are a sought-after symbol of luxury (despite all the past and recent objections) and high quality products, made by high-skilled artisans.