Last of the Furriers
The man in question has been tailoring furs for over fifty years. You’ve seen his work draped over NBA stars and enveloping actresses on the red carpet, but probably never here, on West 32nd Street in Manhattan’s Koreatown.
I call the number, and Jerry Sorbara’s son, Sal Sorbara, comes down to fetch the photographer and me. We shove our hands in our coat pockets against the cold November wind while we wait. Sal unlocks the door and escorts us to the elevator. The flirting starts as soon as the elevator doors close.
“You both have blue eyes,” he says to us. “You could be sisters! You’re the same size too, so tiny!” At six foot six he’s got sixteen inches on us, and at forty two, more than a few years, too. histoire d’or collier or blanc diamant But he’s handsome and, frankly, something of a charmer.
When the elevator doors open, Sal ushers us into the fur room. It’s tastefully decorated, with marble floors and heavy wooden chairs and desks. On the north wall, built in cabinetry in dark wood holds racks of fur coats in a rainbow of colors red, purple, black, white, striped, spotted and brown. Two rolling racks stand against the walls, graine de cafe collier or one holding fur blankets in brown and fuchsia, and the other yet more coats. The showroom is empty and quiet.
Jerry is farther back in the workshop, bent over an ancient fur sewing machine working on a purse of American alligator and sable. The torn canvas covering the bottom of the machine is dirty and oiled, the paint on the arm is worn away. Dust and fur cling to the top. Behind him, sitting atop plywood tables, are several fifty year old black metal Singer sewing machines, with scrolled metal foot petals the size of encyclopedias.
Jerry works deliberately as he talks to me, stopping and collier or pendentif coeur starting the machine. He runs a seam through racourcir collier or two disks that look like smooth edged gears, stitching lining into the collier homme ancre marine purse.
“I believe in my work,” he says in his thick Italian accent. “If I could design the Brooklyn Bridge in fur, I could sell it. Got that one Give me five.” He leans over and palms my hand, then turns back to fuss with the purse.”We always like to take our time and get things right. I try to make coats with no excuses. My coats, they have to be the best. And they are the best.”
Jerry and Sal could talk, anddotalk, for hours about their clients who, by all accounts, adore both Sorbaras and the coats they sell. One client bought so many coats, they tell me, she turned a room in her home into the “Jerry Sorbara” gallery, displaying all the coats on mannequins and keeping the room long collier homme cool for proper storage. wrote a rapturous short story about a vintage Sorbara sable. It looks like one of those “about town” pictures you see in society magazines. “You have a beautiful smile. You make me so nervous, I can’t collier or blanc chat thread the machine,” he says. He switches seats with me to work at the table, hand stitching collier or aliexpress a seam with a thimble on his finger.
Over his half century tailoring fur for women and men alike, Jerry has seen styles evolve from opulent, fluffy coats to tiny, apologetic vests and jackets that are hardly recognizable as fur.
He pulls a leather book down off the shelf, and opens it. It has rough sketches of coats with measurements and notes beside them. Most are either vests or cropped coats with flared waists. Women now often bring in old fashioned, to the floor coats with long hair and padded shoulders, and he shears them, or even takes the pelts completely apart and puts them back together into something smaller.
It looks like every coat Sorbara has been asked to tailor recently is just being downsized and made less ostentatious. I ask why he thinks women don’t wear as much fur, collier homme ethnique especially the full coats. He says, “Women didn’t teach their children what is the most beautiful things in life: Furs. Diamonds.”
Girolamo “Jerry” Sorbara was born in 1939 in Calabria, a southern province of Italy, to a brick mason and housewife. He began apprenticing with a local tailor at the age of eight. At fourteen, his family moved to Genoa, where he collier or cube studied under another tailor, and where he first ran a shop on his own at fifteen, when that tailor went away on a month long vacation. Jerry worked for a custom tailor in Greenwich, Connecticut, then Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue in Westchester. Before long, a father son furrier team in White Plains heard about his talent, poached him, and taught him how to transfer his skills to fur. He was with them for just a year and a half before he landed a job in Manhattan with Ben Kahn, a famous furrier who outfitted the likes of Eva Peron and Cher. Jerry was twenty two years old.
It didn’t take long for him to develop a following among Ben Kahn’s customers. Once they pulled on a coat he had designed for them, they would shower him with ecstatic hugs and kisses. (He often talks about how the tailoring on collier homme marque coats can create a slimming appearance for women, which many of them appreciated.) But Jerry was more than a skilled designer he was a fur pioneer. In 1962, he convinced Kahn to let him start dying furs. It was a hit with customers at the time and is now seen as a definitive collier or blanc enfant fashion statement of the ’60s.
A colorful array of coats at Sorbara FursIn 1975, Jerry sat down with the heads of the company and asked to be made a partner, but Kahn’s son in law just laughed at him. So Jerry up and left, taking Ben Kahn’s nephew, Ted Kahn; the head cutter; and the head saleswoman, with him. He set up just three floors above Kahn’s showroom, in the same building on Fifth Avenue. When customers found out Jerry was gone, they would head down to the lobby, inquire with the doorman and then take the collier homme pierre precieuse elevator right back up to the fifteenth floor.
Business boomed. Sorbara furs were soon sold in Neiman Marcus, Saks and Bloomingdale’s. Jerry outfitted Jackie Onassis, Muhammad Ali, Walt Frazier of the New York Knicks, and Elizabeth Taylor. In the 1987 film “No Way Out,” the actress Sean Young wore a Sorbara fur as she cavorted with Kevin Costner. A picture of Anna Nicole Smith shows the late model draped over a chair, pouting inside a massive, fluffy white Sorbara piece.
At its height, Jerry Sorbara Furs employed twenty eight people. Clients would be greeted by a receptionist and then handed over to one of a team of sales reps. His seven thousand square foot space housed a factory where twelve employees churned out several floor length coats, jackets, short jackets and capes a day. The business grossed over five million dollars a year.
Minks were and still are, to some extent the collier or pour chien staple of Sorbara’s business. They started at $8,000 but could go all the way up to $50,000 for a rare “Black Willow” coat from the famous and hyper exclusive Utah ranch. Good Russian sable could run into the hundreds of thousands. “Do you know how busy we collier or pandora were” Jerry says, as we talk in the empty Koreatown showroom. “We had several customers come inevery day.”
In 1981, Jerry bought out his two partners. That same year, Neiman Marcus approached him to sign an exclusive contract. It looked like a plum opportunity Jerry was guaranteed a certain level of sales each collier or et rubis femme year. For about a decade, this worked well. Representatives from Neiman would come take a look at what Jerry had designed and put in orders for their stores across the country. They directed their best customers straight to Jerry to have bespoke furs custom made.
Sal, who joined collier or perles noires the business in 1987 at the age of twenty two, remembers the time a wealthy Californian woman wanted to buy a coat made from the best Black Willow furs of the year. Neiman Marcus flew her to New York, put her up in a hotel, and treated her to dinner with Jerry. “It was a big production,” Sal says. “The fur business way back when was really exciting and fun. It was probably one of the most prestigious businesses at the time. It was so celebrity feeling.”
The decline of fur started in the ’90s, when China flooded the market with low quality mink that sold for just $1,500 a coat. “The imports, they were shit,” Sal says. “Now, it was like everyone could have them. A client’s maid would come in, and she would have a mink coat on.”
At the suggestion of Neiman Marcus, Jerry started having a portion of his furs pieced together in a Hong Kong factory and then shipped to him for finishing, to cut costs.
But while he collier or jaune et topaze could change production tactics to compete with China, Jerry couldn’t do much about fur’s declining popularity. When grunge music’s influence began to take over pop culture, what had once seemed glamorous started to look stodgy. Jerry and Sal adapted by designing furs that didn’t look so ostentatiously furry. They sheared and cut diamond and wave patterns into the fur. They made jackets of lightweight knit fur, which comes without the underlying leather and can even be see through. When they pioneered stretch fur hats, Neiman Marcus ordered three thousand. Jerry produced fur bustiers, which women would wear out to New York nightclubs. He even made fur bikinis on request for a Brazilian client’s fourteen year old daughter.
The business granted customers their wishes, odd as some of them were, “but it wasn’t enough,” according to Jerry. collier homme ras du cou collier or blanc marc orian The new players in the fur game were “eating each other alive on price,” he says. “There was no pride.”
When the landlord raised the rent on their showroom in 1994, Sal bought the floor where collier or fin tendance Sorbara Furs is now located, which is half the size of collier or blanc maille serpentine the old space.
Today, Sorbara employs just four people: Jerry does the designing and tailoring; his son Sal runs the business side; Jerry’s daughter Cathy comes in twice a week to balance the books; and a fourth employee, Greg, helps with sales. They contract out to two factories, one in Hong Kong and two in Manhattan’s Garment District.
Jerry Sorbara fitting a customerGlobally, the fur market has actually boomed in recent years. Worldwide fur sales are now fifteen billion dollars, up from9.1 billion in 2000, mainly due to expanding wealth in Russia and China. But because of his contract with Neiman, collier or de marque Jerry hasn’t had access to those markets. fur sales were one billion dollars. Now they are at $1.34 billion, but mostly in smaller, shorter pieces and accents for garments instead of the full length money makers that Sorbara specializes in. There used to be a Fur Fashion Week; not anymore. Animal rights activists claim their protests made the organizers and attendees nervous. The Fur Information Council of America counters that fur is so popular with designers that it’s integrated into New York Fashion Week and there’s no need for a Fur Week any longer. Fur vests have, indeed, been cited as a trend collier or 3 rangs for winter this year byEllemagazine,and several designers sent fur down the runway for Fall/Winter 2012 in the form of purses and trim on coats. But what got more press was thefauxfur trend. None of which helps Jerry sell flowing mink coats…