Sables for the elite: How the USSR made money on furs and fabrics?

October 23, 2018

The legendary Fur Palace in Leningrad became the place where the first fur auctions were held in the USSR. The main lots were white fox, marten, sable, mink, karakul. 

Here you find a piece of article. We translated for you a part about fur. "Heritage of the republics" program on the MIR 24 TV channel.

Priceless Sables 

In the late 30s, a building in the style of Stalinist Neoclassicism appeared in Moskovsky Prospekt, 98  Leningrad. A Real Palace with columns and stucco. The citizens called it the Fur Palace.

"The building was unique because it gave a special look to Moskovsky Prospekt, and if you show this building, many people will recognize it as St. Petersburg. in time it was an architectural monument of regional significance, " - said the editor-in-chief of the magazine "Fur auctions" Svetlana Luzina.  

Right after the revolution, since 1918, furs from Russia appeared at foreign auctions in Leipzig, London, and Copenhagen. About 40% of the product went to commission agents who sold furs. Therefore, it was decided to organize structure for the sale of valuable goods inside the country.

Several cities were considered that could become a point for organizing auctions, including Vladivostok.

We stopped at Saint Petersburg: the city had well-developed transport routes and logistics.

As a result, we settled on Saint Petersburg, because the city had well-developed transport routes and logistics.

The first fur auction was held in Leningrad in 1931. The organizer was the V/O Sojuzpushnina – the first absolute state monopoly on the sale of Russian furs. 

Irina Krutikova, a Soviet and Russian fashion designer, artist, and full member of the Russian Academy of arts, notes that, "At first, goods for inspection were exhibited at the auction, so buyers came to the halls before the start. To the ordinary philistine, it might seem that furs are similar, but the expert saw that in the Russian assortment there were no two absolutely identical products." 

Emigrants from imperial Russia were the first who set the fashion for Russian furs in the West.

Princesses, former noblewomen, wives and daughters of runaway industrialists wore  Sables in Paris and New York, causing the envy of local fashionistas.The United States bought a lot of fur pelts before the War and during the War years.  British brokers were also very important, they were mainly engaged in re-export.

Fox fur became a landmark for Soviet peoples. It is a symbol of the "Brezhnev" era and stability, also a festive mood. Barbara Brylska wore this fur in the cult Soviet film of Eldar Ryazanov.  

"Barbara Brylska’s hat in the film "The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!" was made from foxes, it’s a copy of the Julie Christie’s hat in "Doctor Zhivago" film. Only the "Doctor Zhivago" film was released in the early 60s, and Brylska wore it in the 70s.  A lag of 10 years is obvious.  All because "Doctor Zhivago" was not shown in the country at that time, so all the audience perceived this hat as a great novelty," explains fashion historian Alexander Vasiliev.

Here's how, Russian furs, having passed through the foreign runways, returned behind the "Iron Curtain" and made a splash. But, the true a trendsetter of fur fashion of those times was the first lady of the USSR Raisa Gorbacheva.  According to Irina Krutikova, Raisa Maksimovna was very modest and didn’t hesitate to wear rather restrained models of fur garments, for example, from a rabbit.She also loved the squirrel coat and arctic fox hat that the designer had made especially for her. She liked furs that were not even very valuable, like squirrels and rabbits, and outfits made from such furs quickly became popular among the European elite – in Sweden and West Germany.

Fur for the Soviet Union was an export product of strategic importance. The currency earned from the sale of furs was used to buy equipment, machinery, and high – precision instruments-everything necessary for urgent industrialization. In turn , on the world market, Soviet fur was very highly valued because of the quality of the pelts.

For example, a luxurious Barguzin sable brought from Yakutia, which saved from frost at a temperature of 37 degrees below zero. A sable skin at auction cost 120 dollars. The maximum price could reach 520 dollars.

Priceless sables even during the Great Patriotic War tried to provide everything necessary for life and reproduction. The best quality furs were grown by the Pushkin animal farm. According to Krutikova's memoirs, even during the war, sable males were given cottage cheese, prunes, and eggs, and there were no cases of food theft among the employees. 

The Central Asian republics were also famous for their exports – mainly karakul. The Bukhara factory sold about 6 million pelts a year and was considered one of the best factories for the production of this fur. 

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