When I arrived in Park City, Utah recently I was on the hunt for things that might be particular to that part of the world. I thought I'd find cowboy boots or unusual ornamental neck wear. I was looking for the obscure to write about, something that had a different story and provenance behind it.
On the sloping retail strip of Main Street I did find one particular shop that stuck out. It was called Alaska Fur Gallery - and in the window was a bra and a jock strap both finished with fur which was causing a great deal of amusement for passers by.
"Oh, they have that every year in the window" said one, letting the other know she was a Park City regular. It was a very ordinary looking bit of jock strap but the fur seemed very nice.
As I wandered in I was reminded that the rich still like to run around in exotic stuff and the more obscure and expensive it is, the more likelihood they will indulge. I saw rugs of wolverines and wolves, taxidermy delights where the eyes and fangs were glistening with realism. Then there were mink coats, some of them in vibrant purples and blues, others in soft silky whites. All of them were more expensive than a brand new small car. It was astounding to say the least. It didn't take long to understand who was buying them. A chairlift ride up the ski slopes revealed mansions that looked like sprawling castles with car parks big enough to fit a fleet of luxury cars. I was told some of them had their own basketball courts and bowling alleys. The wealth that was just in this one area of the USA ski fields served to remind me of the size and the scale of the US economy.
As I circumnavigated the shop I asked one of the shop managers, Sarkes Solomon III , if he had anything really different to show me that was out of their ordinary work.
He came back with something that looks like it might have been in film The Revenant or perhaps Mad Max. It was as though a mad hunter had assembled all his greatest kills and put them into one big overcoat for the hardest and longest of winters.
The shawl was made of a soft coyote fur, flanked on either side by beaver fur. The pockets were made of buffalo leather whilst the cream leather was in fact beaver suede, with the fur forming the lining of the coat.
On the back, running down the centre was the back of a small alligator, flanked on either side of the shoulder by further alligator trim.
At 14990 USD it was not for the average Joe trying to keep warm. Perhaps once upon a time it might have been picked up by one of the more aggressive Hollywood producers heading to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival. But in a world of #metoo I envisaged that there were not enough macho men left to buy this particular jacket. In fact, I was quite puzzled as to who eventually would purchase this particular piece.
It was certainly very warm. It was certainly unique and I did love it for it's manly assertions. It just happened to be a jacket out of sync with the current political and social climate in terms of it's use of skins and furs and in a world where being manly was being frowned upon universally. And, that made me sad. Because, there was still an artisan nature of the making of this jacket, the 40 odd hours that went into producing it at the company's Anchorage factory in Alaska. There was still the artfulness in selecting complimenting materials and making sure they could all work together in the one piece. It still held the functional role of being an extremely warm jacket for the depth of a winter in Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado .... So what was the problem?
There was no shortage of women buying Australian crocodile skin handbags from Hermes. There was not shortage of fur still being sold by Versace and others. What was the issue if a man should want to own such a jacket?
A few nights later in Los Angeles I was watching a stand-up comedy act and a woman described her genitalia in the crudest form and made all sorts of references as to what her privates did with certain types of men. It was followed by a male comedian who began to say that he felt hemmed in by the #metoo movement and as a comedian he felt compelled to watch everything he said now. Even as he tried to make this arrangement sound funny, you could tell his routine felt very staccato, in stops and starts, as he tried to gauge the audience response as he went along.
It left me with a sort of melancholy and I was reminded of the jacket. We are in a funny place in the world right now. Nobody wants to see fur on jackets but nobody blinks an eyelid to driving a car with leather seats. You can hear a woman talk about her vagina in a manner which would make even Ron Jeremy blush but a man who dwells on whether men are being unfairly treated in a post #metoo world will be shut down and bullied off social media.
And to my mind, this jacket, this exceptional jacket of rare and hard to find skins and furs, embodies what seems to be unacceptable for men these days. And about that I feel a certain hypocrisy and a certain sadness.