Friday, February 1, 2013

The Skinny -- Fur Facts: Mouton

Marlene Dietrich in her mouton ensemble
OK, so everyone might not agree with us about this new series of The Skinny posts -- information about different types of fur. We've wanted to know more about fur for a while now, and we thought we could all learn together. We know people tend to have strong opinions on the subject.  And while furry love may not be politically correct, we can't help it -- the glamor, the feel, the old-Hollywood-ness of it all just gets us every time.  If we see fur, we have to touch it...But we do restrict ourselves to vintage fur!

Today is all about mouton (pronounced MOO-tawn) furs.  The word ‘mouton’ comes from the French word for mutton.  They are made from lamb/sheep pelts.  Mouton coats reached the peak of popularity in the 1950s.  They are made from a high-grade lambskin that is manufactured to capture the look, feel, density, and luster of sheared mink or beaver fur.  The fibers of a mouton are thick and straight, not curly, like Persian lamb (what we Blackbird girls call curly lamb).  It is sheared to an even ½ inch depth, and it is super plush, with a shimmer and luster to the finish.  The fur has a sheen with natural highlights and lowlights to the color that changes in different lights.  High quality mouton pelts can quite easily be mistaken for more expensive types of fur.  The pelts are most commonly found in deep, chocolate brown, but can be dyed in many shades.

When we're out and about looking for inventory, we most commonly find short, cropped mouton coats. But as you can see in some of the vintage advertisements included in today's post, long and mid-length styles were popular, too.  And as Marlene shows in the photo above, hats and other accessories were made from the fur as well.  Yet another common use for the mouton fur was as collars on men's coats. 

If you are someone who doesn't condone or like fur, you can always get a faux mouton coat.  They can be really well made, with a very similar sheen to the finish and a similar density to the fibers.  And you get the added benefit of a cheaper price!

Now, enjoy these images of luscious mouton fur...

Our newest addition -- available in our mini-boutique in Brightside Gallery in Asheboro!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On the Radar -- Pig Out!

Ok, so after the slight Debbie Downer-ness of yesterday's post, I thought we could lighten it up with the trend post today.  We're going a little pig crazy right now!  When we did the window at the antique mall this past time (Sorry we haven't written about the current window yet.  Shame on us!), we put some pigs in it.  Well, they sold.  And we've sold all the piggies we had in our Etsy shop, too.  People have always loved pigs, but they seem to be showing up everywhere.  Maybe it has to do with the new intense obsession with bacon that has swept the nation?  Oh wait, I promised not to be Debbie Downer...

Here's a roundup of the coolest pigs (I think) that Etsy has to offer right now.  It's blog "window shopping", if you will...

Bracelet by The Opulent Squid, here.
Vintage Tape Measure, from Ratty and Catty, here.
Letterpress note card from Twin Ravens Press, here.
Flying Pig platter from The Mad Platters, here.
Pig Planter from Fruitfly Pie, here.
Poster by Drywell, here.
Pig Chalkboard from Poppy Hill Co, here.
*Sorry.  Had to get the bacon thing in there again...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Vera Vault -- Plaid Edition

We Blackbird girls collect many, many things.  Pretty sure that's no secret.  And I'm sure everyone knows how much we love (desperately, totally, with no reservations) our junk.  But if there is one collection that is nearest and dearest to my heart, it is my Vera Neumann collection. 

I discovered Vera through a blurb on HGTV.  There was some show that highlighted collections, and they showed a woman with all her various Vera items -- scarves, aprons, dish towels.  I had never heard of Vera, but it was love at first sight.  It was really the first time I had a burning need to own a particular category of vintage item.  In other words, I was just an amateur collector before Vera came into my life.

My love affair with Vera started during a very hard part of my life.  Newly graduated from college, I was trying to find my way in the world.  I needed to find a career rather than a job, and I didn't really know where I wanted to go.  I decided to move to Asheville to get a jump start, but soon realized that it doesn't really matter where you relocate.  You're still really in the same place if your mind isn't where it needs to be.  Looking back, I realize that I was more than a little depressed, living three hours from home in a city where I knew no one, trying to find a job in a place where everyone told me, "We're not hiring."  And then, the unthinkable -- my parents divorced after 33 years of marriage.  My entire world was turned upside down, and I had to move back home to be with my mom.  She needed me.

I found my first Vera scarf in an antique mall in Asheville.  It was about two months after I found out about my parents, a month before I moved back, and two weeks after I saw the blurb on HGTV.  I had started wandering around the businesses downtown to distract myself, and the antique mall was a favorite.  I didn't know enough to know what to look for to find a Vera -- but as soon as I saw it, I knew it was hers.  I paid too much ($16) and it had a few holes, but it made me so happy.  So, so happy.  And so the collection started.

My plan with the Vera Vault is to show my collection.  To archive it for myself, and to help other collectors by showing the range of patterns she made.  So for the first, we're starting with my plaid Vera scarves!

Silk Poncho
Acetate Sash
Chiffon Scarf
Acetate scarf
Acetate Scarf
Chiffon Scarf

Chiffon Sash
Silk Scarf

Monday, January 28, 2013

Junk Love Monday: Philosophical Musings, and a Pet Peeve or Two

What gives something value? First, I suppose that we have to consider the different types of value. Sentimental value comes mainly from an emotional response to something. Historical value has a major cultural component. But what determines the monetary value of an item? The established rule of thumb is that an object is worth what someone will pay for it. Cut and dried, right? I don't think so.

Anyone who has worked in the antique business, who has bought and sold and traveled to find that good deal, knows that geography matters. Out-of-state shoppers that come to the antique mall tend to comment about our great oak furniture prices, or the affordability of good farm tools. We have Japanese customers who make an annual trip to buy Fire King, because it is cheaper and more abundant here than back home. For Blackbird, a huge percentage of our customers are on the West Coast, and we've learned that people in California will pay a certain amount for certain items that people from North Carolina will not. This is why online works for us, because our customer can be anyone, from anywhere. It also means that pricing can be tricky, especially since we now have a mini-boutique in a local gallery. An item priced on the rack may not have the same price in our online shop. Finding the right balance is key. The most important thing we have learned is this: know your customer. And we now have two kinds of customers--lunch hour browsers from the downtown business district, and Etsy shoppers worldwide. A photography student in our town, on her lunch break, has a totally different price point in mind when she shops for what is, essentially, used clothing, than someone doing textile research for product development in New York. We have to do our research, but we also have to go with our gut. We don't want to give it away, but we don't want to alienate people, either.

This brings me to Pet Peeve #1: eBay as the Be-All-End-All-God-of-Pricing. I can't tell you how many times someone has something they want to sell, and they open with, "Well, I looked it up on eBay, and it's worth..." blah blah dollars. When we research pricing, we look on eBay, and Etsy, and maybe Ruby Lane, and then we use that information, along with our investment value, and a little bit of intuition, to come up with a price. Sometimes, we miss the mark, and have to put an item on sale. Sometimes, we strike gold. Most of the time, it's just right. A completed items search on eBay is great, but sometimes it only gives a window in time. A hot seller this week might go for pennies next week. Plus, the item might have sold to someone in Wisconsin, or Australia, or France (there goes that geography again...), where a completely different pricing norm exists. What would a vintage 36" WWII Russian propaganda poster sell for here? Probably a lot, just for the novelty (and historical!) value. But in a shop in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida), I found boxes of them for the equivalent of $10 each (U.S.). Trust me, geography matters.

We also have to keep in mind two basic principles of economics:  supply and demand, and the tendency of all markets to cycle. Ten years ago, Weiss Christmas tree pins were really sought after, and we treated them like gold bricks at the antique mall. They sold, easily, for $150-$250 each. Then, a shift in the winds meant that nobody was buying them. What do we do? We either hold on to them with fingers crossed that interest picks up again, or we sell them cheaper. It is the way of things. Colored glass decanters may be $15 each until Martha Stewart Living calls them the next big thing in decorating, and then you're lucky to find one for less than $75. As soon as Martha decides they're old news, you may not get more than $10 for one.

You know another good resource? Books written by collectors, or even better, talking to an actual human being with a long history of buying a particular item. They have years of experience buying (and possibly selling). They know about the market cycles, the reproductions, the common, the rare high priced limited editions, and what the normal price range is for their area. Sometimes, collectors don't shop online, so their point of reference for pricing is limited to what they see in brick and mortar shops. On the other hand, some collectors are 100% Internet based, and have no concept of what the store down the street has in stock. But, either way, the collectors are the best source of information on how much collectors will pay for an item. Pet Peeve #2: not trusting the people who know more than you do. These are the people who read the books, write the articles, follow the auctions, and put their souls into curating collections. If I had dolls to sell, I might look on eBay, but I'd also take advantage of a local doll collector's knowledge. To disregard someone's experience, and their passion, is to miss a real learning opportunity. It's also a matter of respect.