Fashion File: Fur Collars: Birth of a Trend

From Barney's to Banana Republic, they're everywhere.

They're the trend of the season — stand-alone fur collars. The luxurious looking collars are made of everything from bright pink faux fur to real mink, and worn around the neck in lieu of a scarf.

So, just how did the furry accessories become so ubiquitous?

A few hundred years ago, fashion remained remarkably similar from one year to the next. But now trend forecasters have the dope on goods that are popular today, this month and next year.

In fact, an entire industry surrounding trend forecasting exists, with the colors, styles and fabrics of next year's fashions being decided now. But just because forecasting fashion is big business doesn't mean those predictions will always be a hit.

Amanda Freeman, director of research and trends for Youth Intelligence, a market research, consulting and trend forecasting firm, says "It's not a science ... We digest culture, basically."

Trickle-Up or Trickle-Down

For the most part, fashion designers and retail outlets get their ideas from two sources: the street or high-end designers.

The phrase "trickle up" may make you think of national economics, but it works for fashion, too. Trend forecasters say fashion trickles up from the street to high-end designers, who often influence mainstream fashion.

Morris Johnson, instructor in FIT's Fashion Merchandising Management department, says "In the early '80s, that [trickle-up fashion] started to get really serious." Athletic wear that was initially popular in the streets, "Was being interpreted at the top levels, like the Adidas stripe," Johnson says.

According to Judi Baker, publisher and editor of Celebrity Fashion Connection, "Designers ... get most of their ideas from people on the street, at clubs ... Designers are always looking at youth, seeing what they are putting together."

With the fur collar, the opposite held true. It's a "trickle-down" fashion trend that went from a high-end designer (Prada) to the masses.

Mall-ward Ho!

In the case of the stand-alone fur collar, "Prada was the first one to do this high-end," says Freeman. Industry people all acknowledge that the collar trend began at Miucca Prada's Fall/Winter shows in Milan this February.

The genesis of Prada's idea remains murky, but some have theories: "If there's an area of Rome where trend-setters hang out," says Freeman, "she [Miucca Prada] may have noticed that people were cutting pieces of fur and wearing them [around their necks], and then she thought, 'Hmmmm.'"

Back in February, the fashion press was already taking note of the Prada accessory. At the time, Reuters' Jennifer Clark wrote, "The most-copied label's most-copied accessory for next winter won't be a bag or a shoe but a little fox fur collar tied with a string, to be worn like a necklace over bare shoulders, on top of a sweater or simply any old way that looks good."

So the trend forecasters went to work, sending out their scoop to mainstream retail outlets such as Banana Republic and Express. "Designers and editors really liked that in the Prada show and that was really the buzz so everyone else just did it," says Freeman.

And it was easy to copy: "It's an item that can be knocked off overnight," says FIT's Johnson. "You can literally have those things made up in a week to 10 days."

Now it's being sold at on-every-corner retail venues such as Express and Banana Republic. Banana Republic's Kim Sobel says the collars are a hit: "I think it's doing very well," she says of the Banana Republic collar, which comes in brown, black and even hot pink.

When Will it End?

Even a popular trend such as the fur collar has a short shelf life. In fact, some differentiate between "trends," which can last seasons, and "fads," which are flashes in the pan. "With fads, one day they're in, the next day they're out," says Youth Intelligence's Freeman.

"The fur collar is a fad," she continues. "It'll still be knocked off next fall and that'll do it."

FIT's Johnson gives the trend a little more time: "It probably won't go past ... next spring. This detachable collar thing is so identifiable, once a customer has one, that's the end of it." In other words, no need to have collars to match every outfit. One is enough.

It all boils down to fashion trends 101: "From the streets to the runway to the masses, it gets watered down so the mainstream can understand it, so they'll buy it, and they'll wear it," Baker says. "And the next season, there's a whole other thing."

So watch out for next season's new trend: all things fuschia.