Over the past couple of months, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of getting to know Lavonny of Tock Tick Vintage. A real vintage enthusiast with a big generous heart, she is one of those people that you know love and kindness are engrained in her soul. With her big smile, infectious giggle and sparkle in her eye, Lavonny takes such pride in her shop and always strives to find exactly what her customers are looking for.
I remember seeing the most amazing fur cape I’d ever seen on her shop Facebook page and after enquiring about it, I found out that it wasn’t for sale as it was one of Lavonny’s prized pieces. She was happy for me to borrow it however for a photoshoot with Mike Froger which was lovely!
Something changed her mind however and about a month ago, Lavonny messaged me saying that she would love for me to have it as she knew that I too would treasure it but also wear it out. She’s right, it’s become one of my most prized possessions, not just because of how much I love it, but also for Lavonny’s love for it and the incredible gesture she showed me!
Vintage furs have always been a favourite of mine so I’ve asked Lavonny some questions about this particular fur, vintage fur’s in general and how to properly care for one!
Animal rights statement- I wish to state that I have great empathy with animal rights campaigners and do not condone the slaughter of animals for their pelts. However, these items are vintage and therefore from a less compassionate age. I respect the animals right’s to life and a right for a individual to cherish vintage furs.
If you don’t agree with this statement or could find the discussion of vintage furs upsetting then please don’t read any further.
Where and when did you purchase this gorgeous fur?
I lived in London UK in the mid-1990s and worked for a well-renowned investment bank. They held a ‘Royal Ball’ once every five years, which was hands-down, the most glamorous event I have ever attended. I purchased the silver fox stole from an antique shop in Portobello Road in London for the event. I remember it cost me almost a week’s wages back then – buying it at a premium of course as it was from an antique shop in London!
What do you know of its origins and history?
I only actually know what I was told by the antique dealer. I was recommended by one of the stockbrokers I worked for it was a reputable shop that traded in quality items. I had worn vintage clothing since my teens and I knew when I found a gorgeous emerald velvet gown, I would want to complete the look with a beautiful fur. The ball was held in a large marquee in Battersea in the British autumn, so I needed to be warm, and look glamorous at the same time.
I was advised by the dealer it was a silver fox cape from the late 20s / early 30s, from the Northern hemisphere and that silver fox fur had always been considered a luxury fur, due to its comparative rarity. The more silver guard hairs and the darker the under fur deemed it a fur of beauty rendering it higher in value … silver fox furs had been sought after by nobility through Russia and Northern Eurasia centuries prior.
When I purchased the silver fox fur, there was no internet to refer to. In fact, I did no research at the time, I loved it, it looked fabulous with my gown, and I just had to have it! Decision made.
What makes a vintage fur valuable? What should buyers look for?
Different types of animal fur can command different prices, usually due to the rare nature of the animal. Some of the most expensive fur types are mink, blue fox, sable, ermine, black bear. Then fur lengths, fur quality, style of design all play a part in the value of the item too. Rabbit, squirrel, beaver, red fox were comparatively inexpensive to buy as they were animals in large supply. That said, these are the furs that are still, to this day, easiest for us to find and afford, so still the more common you will find when looking to buy, and still equally beautiful furs.
When looking you want to run your fingers through the fur, checking for tears of the skin, bald patches etc. Obviously the more pristine, the more saleable and the higher the price. Each type of fur has different qualities that make it more valuable ie, the silver fox .. the darker the fur and the more silver guard hairs, then the price would be at a premium. Obviously each person is looking for characters that suit their own needs, ie, to match a particular outfit, affordability, style, colour etc
I would avoid purchasing a vintage fur item if it seemed that the leather pelt felt very ‘crunchy’ and brittle .. this would indicate to me that the leather has really dried out and would be near impossible to recover. Fur dropping out would be imminent.
Something to be mindful of when purchasing fur coats and jackets, you really should buy them with plenty of room to move. Fur pelts are glued together in pieces. So if you squeeze into a jacket, you are likely to rip the skins apart, particularly around the shoulders when moving. I suggest always making sure there is plenty of room, never purchase one too small, you will only ruin it.
Labels on items can be a great indicator of the age and/or quality of an item. However these can be lost over time. The dealer of the silver fox had had it relined prior to my purchasing it, so the lining is not original. If a vintage fur has had the lining lovingly replaced, this is a great sign, as it means the dealer would have had the pelt reconditioned (the leather hide of the fur) on the inside and then relined it. It also means it had value if he was prepared to go to measures to preserve it. If you ever look at a fur stole and think the stitching looks like it is loosely tacked on, that is actually so it could be easily unstitched by the furrier once every decade or so to recondition the fur.
Are there specific indicators on a vintage fur that can help you identify it’s age?
Whilst an avid vintage clothing enthusiast, and now the owner of a vintage studio, I still don’t profess to being an ‘expert’ in any way, shape or form on recognising, dating or pricing vintage items. I have more of an ‘eye’ for things of quality or beauty I would say. That said, I have learned a lot along the way, and with trial and error pride myself on caring for and maintaining the quality of items that cross my path to a high standard.
I still find dating pieces very difficult. As I have a great platform of sources, I rely a lot on the information provided to me at the time I purchase. If I am buying from a lovely lady in her 80s, who tells me her mother wore it at her debutante ball, well … I can guess it’s a hundred years old. Talking to people provides so much knowledge! Also leaves me feeling somewhat honoured to be taking on and handling such a piece of history .. I find myself being transported back to the time the article may have danced around some ballroom in some faraway place.
I find online resources amazing for information on vintage items. Like everything, you need to keep things in context, but a lot can be learned. Scouring endless photos of fashion throughout history can help a lot as to what was around when. Checking on websites of reputable places who ARE experts on vintage fashion and furs is really helpful.
Changes in fashion styles and trends are sometimes recognisable in historic fashion pictures. For example, in the 1920s and 1930s I noted that it was common for a lot of the women to be wearing the entire fox around their neck, with the mouth being clipped to the bushy tail at the front of the outfit, whereas in the 1950s and 1960s more fur capelets were appearing in fashion photography. This is just an observation I made.
You don’t always have the luxury of discovering the origins of a vintage item, especially when thrift store shopping etc, but your imagination can work wonders!! You won’t be paying premium prices at a thrift store so you can afford to take a risk and score something fabulous.
Do you have any recommendations on places to look for buying a vintage fur?
Vintage stores – really are great (I’m not just saying that because I am one!) The items are offered to you at the best they can be (still vintage items so not always perfect, but the owner will have taken care to clean, mend and care for the item so you get it in the best condition it can be).
Online auctions – although you can only tell the condition from what the seller discloses, however if they have great feedback that is a good sign. Of course, furs are very tactile things of beauty, so I personally would prefer to see, touch and smell and try the item I am purchasing before I buy it
Thrift stores – great finds and bargains can still be found ! You are supporting the community! Of note, some Op Shops are charging fairly hefty prices for their furs now (more than some vintage stores) so shop around! Also, they are often donated and put straight out on the shelf without any extra care (as is) so check carefully.
Talking amongst friends and family – You would be surprised how many of your friends have lovely grandmothers and aunts who have treasures like these tucked away and would be only too happy to sell them to you. Many of these lovely people would be quite chuffed to think that someone else will love an item they have treasured over time. It validates their taste and history, and can often give them a few extra pennies. Make sure you offer them a reasonable and fair price ☺
Vintage furs are notorious for having ‘that smell’ – do you have any tips on how to get rid of it/prevent it from smelling?
Being a natural fibre, like hair, furs absorb smells. Walk through a smoky room wearing your fur and it will absorb the smoke, so over time, yes, they can develop a ‘smell’. Also, people made the mistake in the past of storing items with moth balls, and stale moth ball smell is often the culprit. Perfume is not a fur coat’s friend! Better to dab your wrists with your favourite scent if wearing your vintage fur cape ☺
Firstly, I recommend with any of your valued clothing items, to place outside on a hanger two or three times a year on a gentle breezy day (not too hot and sunny, furs don’t really like too much bright sun for too long .. extended heat dries out the leather pelt). Ventilating your clothing is a simple and easy way to keeping them fresh.
I purchased a natural soft bristle pet brush from the pet store (was not expensive) … and every now and then I brush the fur (this is actually quite a tactile lovely process I find). It aerates the fur and removes any dust particles etc and keeps it silky. Of course, I am dealing in furs, so it is handy for me to have a brush. You can do this with clean hands with same effect.
You can hang the fur into a garment bag and place an open envelope full of coffee granules at the bottom, zip it up and leave it for about three days. Take the fur out of the bag, brush it, replace the coffee and repeat for another three days. Then air the fur outside for an hour or so over a weekend. The fur will smell of coffee for a short time but will completely go, as will ‘that smell’. This is surprisingly effective!!!
I also personally use a solution of one parts Vodka to 3 parts water in a spray bottle, hanging the fur outside on the line, I stand back from the fur and spray a fine mist over the fur (and articles of vintage clothing too) making sure to not wet the items, but mist them. Allow to dry then brush. This works wonders on smells too. I have never caused any damage to my items through this process but care is required.
What’s the best way to store and care for your vintage fur?
Never store your furs in plastic .. they need to breathe .. in fact never cover with anything when in storage.
If possible, store in a dark cool place (closet is fine) .. but maybe place a hook from the ceiling or on the wall in there so it can hang slightly separate (ie) you don’t want it to be squished between all your other clothes, will flatten the fur and will not allow air to circulate around it.
I highly recommend buying a product like ‘DampRid’ and keeping these in your wardrobes … not to protect just your fur, but your other wardrobe treasures. I find I replace these quarterly at a cost of around $7 per time. They are little buckets or sachets of a solution that absord moisture and are incredibly effective at keeping moisture and mould out of your wardrobe. A highly recommended $30 year round investment for keeping your clothes in great shape. I know it seems straight forward, but run your hands though the garments in your wardrobe each week and quickly vacuum the floor and ceiling as part of your housework routine. Keeps dust and wee bugs away from your treasures and is another simple 30 second solution to help keep your clothes fresh.
Your fur needs to be placed on a decent wide, padded or shaped coat hanger to retain good shape and be well supported.
I have had customers purchase furs that they are going to keep displayed on a mannequin in their home. This is fine so long as it is never in direct sunlight, is in a relatively cool position and is regularly brushed and shaken to keep it aired and dust free. I agree, they look beautiful, why not display them!!!!
As furs were more common in the past, there were expert furriers that would care for fur treasures. These are now difficult to find and possibly quite expensive. That said, if you own a top quality blue fox coat that cost thousands of dollars, I do recommend obviously getting it the care it requires. I don’t really know of any furriers in Auckland, but I am sure if you check with your trusted dry cleaner they could point you in the right direction. I would imagine in cities with colder climates, ie, where fur coats would be worn more commonly due to temperature, more places would be available to purchase and care for fur.
Gentle surface washing will do no harm to fur, but wetting the pelt might make the fur fall out. Using a very mild baby or pet shampoo diluted with water then using a cloth or a brush the solution to clean the fur without penetrating the pelt works well.
When you see a label on vintage fur items ‘clean using the furrier method only’ this refers to a process where furs were tumbled in machines filled with gritty sawdust .. the dry friction cleaned the leather and left the fur silken and clean.
I have effectively cleaned fur stoles/collars/hats with unprocessed bran (gently heated in the oven first). You then place the fur in large bag (pillowcase even) with bran. Shake it around vigorously for a few minutes, then discard and brush out the bran. This is pretty labour intensive, the bran takes ages to brush out, but it really absorbs smells and dirt and leaves the piece lovely. Crazy I know!
I believe there are quality fur care products available online although I have not used any.
I personally use my common sense with my fur care. If you pay $100 for a vintage fur stole you may not necessarily wish to go to the expense of paying a professional to care for it. The silver fox fur I owned is still as immaculate as the day I purchased it some 20 plus years ago just by using some common sense.
This all sounds very in depth. It is actually relatively simple. I make small mends when seams come apart and I spot clean if I have to. When buying a vintage item, there will often be imperfections, these items have been lovingly worn over time and that is to be expected. You will lovingly wear it and care for it too.
The main thing is if you find a vintage fur piece you love and can afford … buy it, respect it, care for it, and enjoy it! Simple.
Thank you so much Lavonny for such in-depth, insightful detail! It is so good to know how to properly take care of a vintage fur and make sure it stands the test of time!
Check out Lavonny’s vintage shop on Facebook- Tock Tick Vintage. If you live in Auckland, be sure to make a appointment to go visit, she has lots of lovely treasures!
Do you have a prized vintage fur? Tell me it’s story!
x Miss Victory Violet