TruthAboutFur: How did you become a fur dresser?
Luigi Cappuccio: Like so many people in every sector of the fur trade, I was born into it. My father began our company, and I joined him in 1977.
TaF: What is fur dressing?
LC: Basically, fur dressing is the word we use to refer to a series of specialized processes that produces a fur pelt that is soft and supple, clean and preserved that will last for many years….a beautiful material that the furrier can transform into warm and beautiful clothing and accessories.
TaF: What do you like about the work you do?
LC: I look at fur dressing as an art. We take the raw dried pelt and we transform it into one of the most luxurious natural fabric materials in the world.
TaF: What exactly do you do when you dress fur pelts?
LC: Well, we’re really practicing a heritage art, and most of the methods have not changed that much over the generations. There is a lot of knowledge and experience involved, but to summarize simply: First we re-hydrate the dried skins, so we can work with them. We degrease the pelts, removing any natural fats, and we clean the fur. Then we reduce the thickness of the pelt’s leather, using special blades, to make a more lightweight and supple product. The pelts are then tanned and cleaned, and finally we work vegetable oils back into the pelt so the leather will be soft and supple. There is a final cleaning, traditionally by “drumming” the pelts in a rotating drum with hardwood sawdust, and then the furs are ready to be sent to the designers and manufacturers.
TaF: What chemicals are used for tanning the pelts?
LC: The main chemicals are alum salts, including aluminum sulfate. These are quite benign chemicals, as they have to be to protect the fur. Alums have been used for hundreds of years for water purification, to reduce the pH of garden soil, and for medicinal uses. Aluminum sulfate is the active ingredient in many anti-perspirants and it is used in styptic pencils to stop bleeding when shaving and to relieve pain from insect bites. We also use regular table salt (NaCl), lanoline and other natural ingredients. We are innovators when it concerns safe and environmentally friendly chemicals.
TaF: Do you use formaldehyde in your fur dressing?
No, at East-West we don’t use formaldehyde, and to the best of my knowledge it's no longer used by any North American dressers. That said, it is a commonly used material, for example in no-press shirts and carpets. It may still be used in Asian countries for dressing fur, but it's definitely not required so the quantities would not be large.
TaF: Are there controls on the waste water you return to the sewers?
LC: Absolutely, we have to abide by strict municipal waste-water regulations.
TaF: How has fur dressing changed since you started?
LC: There is now a much wider variety of special treatments, producing a range of special effects that give designers and manufacturers much more to work with. Most of all, there has been a lot of work done to make the fur pelts lighter weight, because that’s what consumers want. The furs are so lightweight and supple, that it is now possible to knit or crochet with fur! Fur is now like a textile, there’s nothing you can’t do with it. We can now also finish the hide side of the pelt as leather or suede, to produce fully reversible garments. There has never been a more exciting time to be a fur designer – or a fur wearer.
TaF: What is it you like most about working with fur?
LC: For me, it’s an art form. I love working with this natural material. We receive a raw pelt and can transform it into this beautiful, soft, supple, luxurious material. And we do all this basically by hand, the old-fashioned way. No machine can imitate what we do.
TaF: What would you like consumers to know about fur dressing?
LC: : I would like people to not take our profession for granted. I would like you to understand what we do. Fur dressing was probably humanity’s first exploration of applied chemistry. This is a true heritage industry, and it is still evolving and developing today. We have so many modern technologies and lots of synthetics for clothing, but there is still nothing as beautiful and as efficient as a well-made fur.