Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Fur Designs of Edward Gorey

In 1979 Edward Gorey was asked to create a line of fur coat designs for Ben Kahn Furs in New York City. At that time, Mr. Gorey was a full fledged fur coat wearer, owning around 20 furs which he wore regularly. He would be seen dashing about New York City in chilly weather dressed in blue jeans (Levi's or Lee's), sneakers, and Brooks Bros. shirts, encased in one of his signature fur coats. Mr. Gorey is quoted at the time as saying that he did not own a suit and rarely wore a tie.

Ernest Graff, president and son-in-law of BKF's founder Ben Kahn, was a fan of Mr. Gorey's work. Ben Kahn started BKF in 1913 and Mr. Graff took over as president after Mr. Kahn's death in
1976. In addition to numerous private clients, the furrier had provided luxury furs for celebrities, movies and for the Broadway stage. The cast of Gorey Stories (1978's ill fated Broadway show of Mr. Gorey's works which opened and closed on October 30th) was dressed on stage in furs by BKF. One of BKF's most famous/infamous clients was Eva Peron, who ordered two trunks of furs to be sent to Argentina in 1950. BKF also provided the furs worn by Patti LuPone for her Broadway starring role in Evita!

The 1979 Edward Gorey Ben Kahn Fur show was in the works for a while. Mr. Gorey designed over 30 coats for the line which was introduced in September 1979, premiering at Sardi's in NYC. Of the design process, Mr. Gorey decided to go for the unique and unusual rather than the expected. "I purposely did slightly more bizarre ideas. There was no use doing sketches of conventional coats, though I'd say there are plenty of fairly conventional things in the collection." Mr. Gorey is quoted as saying in the Palm Beach Daily News. One such "unusual" creation was a red-dyed collegiate letter sweater made of nutria.

Original artwork from the show is fairly scarce.  Mr. Gorey sold most (if not all) of the drawings through The Gotham Book Mart in the 1990's. Above is pictured one of the designs with hand written notes by Mr. Gorey. This drawing was sold by Bromer Booksellers in their 2001 Gorey Catalog. I had seen other pieces offered by GBM, but did not acquire any of these designs.

There were two pieces of art created for the exhibition brochure. The cover drawing features a fur clad woman on roller skates with an over sized scarf which has show information written on it. This piece of art is not in my collection and the scan was taken from an on-line auction where the piece was sold several years ago. The second piece of art appeared on page three of the tri-fold brochure and announced Mr. Gorey's participation and his premier as a fur designer (see the image at the top of this listing). This large piece of art is in my collection and might be considered to be a self portrait in a fur coat. These are the only two pieces of promotional artwork for the show that I have been able to find.

In 2010, The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust auctioned Edward Gorey's personal collection of furs. This collection included one coat which he had designed for the Ben Kahn collection - Lot #15, a knee length "Fisher Stroller with blue plaid lining" (see image above left).

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