For over seven decades, David Leinoff has been working in the fur industry styling everything from celebrities to Broadway plays, and — now after just celebrating his 90th birthday — the furrier doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.
Leinoff first stepped into the fur industry when he was only 14 years old, in what he calls just “the circumstances of life.” He initially was studying at the Bronx High School of Science but after not doing so well in his classes and being absent a lot, he decided to start looking for another school.
During that time many of the mechanical schools were filled up and the only school he could get into was the Central Needle Trades High School – which later became the High School of Fashion Industries.
After enrolling, Leinoff decided to take up fur and began learning the trade.
“I knew some people in the fur business and they all seemed to be doing quite well ad I thought that a smart, young fellow like me would have no trouble making a few million dollars right away,” Leinoff said.
While going to school, Leinoff also worked after school in the fur industry and after graduating he got a job as a fur cutter and operator at leading manufacturer, Mandel Furs in Grand Fork, North Dakota.
He would remodel coats, but after about six months returned to New York City and ataround 1947 went into business with some partners.
“I enjoyed the feeling of fur, it’s a natural thing,” he said. “There is a feeling about fur that even today I see people come in and as they come close to the fur they feel this is what luxury is.”
However, after a while Leinoff felt that he thought it would be better to get into a business of his own and he found a space sharing with other furriers.
There he began to build the business and had wholesale customers coming to him with their fur products. As the fur business started to go down in th 1950s – and a lot of furriers began to go out of business – Leinoff acquired numerous businesses and begun to see an increase in his retail following.
As his popularity began to grow and he also acquired a two-floor location on 7th Avenue, Leinoff also started fur lines such as Davellin Furs and Balencia Furs – which were later combined to become Davellin/Balencia.
Leinoff’s fur coats could be found in stores such as Begdorf Goodman and were worn by celebrities such as supermodel Jerry Hall and Latoya Jackson. In 1989, Denzel Washington’s wife, Paulette, wore a mink coat by Leinoff while she walked the red carpet with her husband during the Academy Awards.
His furs have also been featured in over 25 plays of Broadway, such as "Wicked," "The Color Purple," "Spiderman" and most recently, "Motown: The Musical."
“Every time I had a partner, I felt that I was working for both of us. Finally, I said to myself no more partners and I was better off,” he said. “I had some good years but at no point was it easy.”
During the years, Leinoff also held nine U.S. patents related to the fur trade – in which in one case he developed a technique in design where he showed leather strips in furs for enhancement. After seeing others in the fashion industry take up the technique – but did not give him recognition – he took the issue to the court and over 25 companies in the end had to stop using the technique.
Leinoff also coined the phrase “Furs and Furgery” —- in which he uses “forgery” as a play on the word “forgery” and later used to crat a faux fur line.
Now, at 90 years old, Leinoff hops onto his motorized Razor scooter – paired with a fur-covered helmet, which he designed himself – six out of the seven days a week and heads from his home to his studio at 270 West 38th St.
He is currently the Chief Creative Designer for Fur and Furgery and continues to alter, fix, and create fur items — by appointment only — completely by hand.
“What I enjoy is if I can make something that people want, I feel very very good,” he said. “Until I stop making things that people like, I’ll continue.”
He added that he encourages people getting into the industry – which now has very few furriers left – to come in and “make it their own.”
“I do like the idea that a lot of young people have a feeling for fur too and want to get involved in it,” he said. “ I think if somebody wants to come in and make it their own, I think that they’re going to be very successful.”
When asked about responding to those who might be against the fur industry, he said that currently 95 percent of furs that are used are raised solely for the purpose of being worn.
And although he understands that there will always be people for and against the industry, he sees it as a part of nature and a tradition that is here to stay.
“When the lamb lays down in peace with the lion, yes that will be the day. But in order for that lion to live, that lamb has to perish,” he said. “Fur is here to stay, there will always be people that have a love for it.”
For more information visit www.furandfurgerysalon.com or call 212-858-0066 or 212-244-7601.