How to Buy a Sable

Furs come from many places—America, Canada, Scandinavia," says Helen Yarmak, who has showrooms in Moscow and New York.

"But for sable, it is Russia," she continues, eyes flashing. Her Moscow studio’s walls are covered with photos of Bill Clinton, Prince Charles, Gorbachev, Baryshnikov.

The first sable she shows me is golden and light and enveloping. This is a great coat. There are also sable jackets and a sensational car coat with a hood and a zipper. Like many of her pieces, it’s reversible. Her designs let you wear the furs in half a dozen ways, inside out or with a plain or embroidered silk shell.

"For beauty, status, style, and warmth, sable is the ne plus ultra of furs," says Yarmak. "It’s the fur of czarinas." And hers are simply fabulous. She says fur is not just about status and style—it’s about the crippling cold. In this capital city winter temperatures often go down to five degrees for weeks at a time. "For a Russian woman," Yarmak says, "fur is a necessity." But it doesn’t have to be sable. At Yarmak’s boutique there is also mink, chinchilla, broadtail, and very sexy long-haired lynx.

A native of Kiev, Ukraine, Yarmak was a scientist before moving to Moscow in the early nineties. In post-Communist times jobs were scarce, so she took up fashion design. Smart move: Russians are the world’s largest consumers of fur. Moscow: 22/1 Kadashevskaya Quay; 7-495/953-4862. New York: 730 Fifth Ave.; 212-245-0777.