The Master Furrier
By Tracy Nexdoly / Photography by John Betley
Canada is fur country. The industry contributes $1 billion to our gross national product, selling about $457 million of its total output all over the world. Despite the number of furs that are exported, many Canadians buy fur – if not for the glamour, then for the warmth and practicality of it.
It’s a big business based on small business. Most fur companies are family-owned and employe less than 100 people, the majority, less than 50. Country Estate introduces you to three who have attained that coveted status: the master furrier.
Chris Anthopoulos of Yukon Fur Company has what must be termed a calling. Wearing a lab coat (the uniform of his trade), he’s trying to explain what separates a good furrier form a great one. “It’s an ability you’re born with, just as an artist can use paint on a canvas to produce a masterpiece, another without the talent created painted fabric”.
A man whose quiet voice belies his intense passions. Anthopoulos started in the fur business many years ago in the small Greek town of Kastoria, one of the world’s fur capitals. He was 13 – it was his first job – and he fell in love. “I saw such potential for achievement in furs, I saw that each article presents a challenge. It’s like art.” he says “So many manufacturers don’t take the time, the pride, to create a masterpiece”.
Anthopoulos leaned what he could in Greece and at the age of 18 came to Canada. It was June 30, 1959 – the date fixed in his mind because when he set foot on Canadian soil he knew that this, too, would be a great passion. “This is a wonderful country, the best. I came here with great hopes. I’d had high marks in school – I knew I could do anything – but all I wanted was to be in this business” he recalls. “My dream was to learn all I could to achieve the status of master furriers. I took any job I could get. I learned how to match, how to sew. And that wasn’t enough. I wanted the design itself to be exquisite”.
Seventeen years ago, Anthopoulos set up his own shop with his brother. They chose the name Yukon for the far north where the best furs originate, and because as Canadian, where they believe the furriers are best. “Our first goal was to be expert furriers with a high-quality, beautiful product” he notes. But he recognized the potential to become known as a leader in design, too. He entered the prestigious American Legend, an elite fur exposition held all over the world. Last year, Yukon was accepted – a coup no other Canadian company and few American ones have achieved.
It was the culmination of years of work. “It takes a long time for a furrier to gain the recognition and trust of the retail buyers and the public” Anthopoulos points out. “We’ve done it. We’re known for producing high quality” That quality is maintained by staying small. Yukon Furs makes only 400 garments a year, about one quarters of most firms’ output. More than 90 percent of their production is Canadian, they import only when Canadian furs are not top of the line. Russian sable for example, is the best sable in the world, so Yukon imports it from Leningrad.
For seven years Anthopoulos provided Christian Dior furs for the French market, a liaison that ended when Yukon signed up Canadian designer pat McDonagh about five years ago. It’s a move that has worked well. McDonagh’s designs won Yukon a spot at the American Legend, and McDonagh’s was the only fur to be shown at the Economic Summit fashion show last year, a gala held for the wives of which included Nancy Reagan.
one of her showpieces, the Chrysler Building, is a mink with skins of various colours used to echo the famous Art Deco landmark in New York. It’s a masterful piece of workmanship: an architect was called in to determine the placing of the way jigsaw-like pieces of the pattern and Anthopoulos himself spent two weeks sewing the thousands of seams in the intricate design.
Devotion to his craft means Anthopouloos is at work by 5 am and doesn’t leave until at least 12 hours later. Unfortunately, that passion has so far escaped his three children. “I only hope they find something that gives them as much joy as this gives me” he says Philosophically “My sons aren’t involved. But my daughter Gloria, the baby…” Does she love it? Will she take over? He’s speaking quietly, as though he doesn’t want to get too excited. All he will say is that she’s good. She’s got flair.
In 1998 Chris became an honorary Irishman, as the placard states:
Know you that, having special knowledge of your generosity of spirit, you Chris MacAnthopoulos have been named an honorary Irishman on this day, 13 March 1998.
This conferral bestows upon you the following rights and privileges, normally the exclusive preserve of those born in Ireland – the land of Saints and Scholars:
* Exemption from Murphy’s law – everything you do will go right; * The gift of Blarney – everything you say will be believed; * Right of entry to Tir Na Nog – celebrated in Celtic mythology as the land of eternal youth;
* A share in the cultural heritage of Ireland, namely, * The wit of Oscar Wilde, * The poetry of William Butler Yeats, * The philosophy of George Bernard Shaw, * The genius of James Joyce. * Among divers other benefits and privileges, fleetness of foot, ability to debar snakes from your environs and skill in the imbibing of spirituous liquors.
Be it known that presentation of this scroll at the gates of heaven will ensure the personal sponsorship of Saint Patrick himself.”