Kerri De’Noble had been finding and selling antiques, from jewelry to furniture to an occasional fur, for years before she had her “aha!” moment.
“I was watching on television … when Beyonce came out wearing an Arctic fox wrap and thought, ‘That’s it! That’s what I’ve got to do with furs,’ ” De’Noble said. “I knew I wanted to recreate fashion from vintage fur, embellish it.”
The revelation about a decade ago required a tough decision: whether to step into an industry roiling with controversy.
“I was leery of getting into it,” De’Noble said. “I love animals, too. I understand the point of view of those who protest the sale of fur. But there is a market for it, and to each their own.
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There was also this mitigating factor: She would not be working with the hides of freshly killed animals.
Nationally, vintage furs have become a boom business, showing up on everyone from runway models to “Sex and the City” actresses.
“Old furs don’t directly contribute to the profits of modern fur farms,” fashion journalist Lisa Hix wrote in a 2013 article for Collectors Weekly. “They’re less toxic to the environment than faux furs, which are made from petroleum.”
But the article, called “Should you feel guilty about wearing vintage fur?” also notes that the popularity of old furs has rekindled interest in furs of all kinds, which upsets animal-rights activists.
“PETA is opposed to all real fur, whether it comes from an animal killed yesterday or 50 years ago,” said Danielle Katz, a San Francisco-based manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in an interview Tuesday. “It sends the same message: It’s OK to kill animals to wear their skins. It’s unacceptable.”
De’Noble says she’s never been approached by someone protesting her work — and she’s been in public often enough.
“I’ve sold my work at antique shows in Tacoma and Puyallup for years,” De’Noble said. “I was known as the ‘fur lady’ at shows, and I believe in our area I’m the one and only person working with vintage furs.
“The next step for me was always a boutique.”
She and husband Chris bought a house near the Tacoma Mall in December 2013.
“The day we got the paperwork signed, I started working on that basement,” De’Noble said. “We had our grand opening in November 2014.”
The House of Kerri bills itself as “South Sound’s One and Only Vintage Furrier.”
It’s essentially a one-woman enterprise. De’Noble runs the store five days a week, and behind the front counter is the basement shop where she works on projects — and she has plenty of them.
“A lot of women have grandma’s fur, great-grandma’s fur, and don’t know what do we do with it,” De’Noble said. “They carry wonderful memories, but they don’t even know what kind of fur is it. People bring me those furs.”
De’Noble assesses the condition of the fur and identifies the animal. That often leads to customers who want the fur repaired or completely recreated into a more fashionable piece of apparel.
At times, people bring in furs that she says can’t be resold.
“I’ve seen ocelot, badger and furs from big cats, chinchilla or seal,” De’Noble said. “I’m still learning what furs are banned from resale.
“When one comes in, I can give the customer some options. I can create something new from their fur, completely renovate it. I’ll charge them for the service. but I can’t resell it.”
Recently, for instance, she took in a long fur coat and created a wrap, hat and coat for her client for $1,100.
Often, she said, people bring her old furs and simply give them to her. They no longer want it, or it’s in such poor shape they don’t want to pay to refurbish it.
“I’ve done black capes that have gotten a good response, and sold one listed for $4,500 — that was my peak price,” she said. “I’ve done stoles and wraps, too.
“People call or come in with furs and I tell them the truth — prices for reselling have dropped to about a third of their original value. Still, should they just be eaten by moths? That’s just a waste.”
Born in California, De’Noble was taught to sew when she was 7 by a mother who was a creative seamstress.
“She loved doing costumes, and I was a black spider one year, a tooth on another Halloween,” De’Noble said. “I got my creativity from my mother, Beverly, and my entrepreneurship from my father, Gilberto.”
And she gets her security team from a pair of great Danes, Bones and Barkley.
“They protect me and the shop,” De’Noble said. “No one has tried to break in yet.”