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Hooked on Feathers!
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Fancy Feathers
The Bend Bulletin, Bend, Oregon

Fashionistas, fishermen are competing for a share of fly-tying feathers
http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110312/NEWS01/103120302
By Heidi Hagemeier
/ The Bulletin
In the fishing shop he's owned for 26 years, Peter Bowers sells reels and waders and numerous dry flies.
Within the last nine months, Bowers said, new customers have flooded his Bend store, The Patient Angler, to buy fly-tying feathers. And most of them have never handled a fly rod.
They're hairstylists, jewelry makers and do-it-yourselfers hooking into one of the latest trends in the fashion world: feather hair extensions and jewelry. From celebrities to Central Oregonians, women of all ages are attaching fly-tying feathers into their hair and wearing them as earrings.
The feathers of the fly-fishing industry's specially bred chickens — long, striped and silky soft — are suddenly in high demand.
“It's cracking up my customers,” Bowers said of his usual angler clientele.
While some find it amusing, this intersection of fashion and fishing is causing some complications.
The roosters that grow the most desirable feathers for hair must be about a year old before the feathers are mature enough to be harvested, said Tom Mullen of Whiting Farms, one of the fly-fishing industry's largest feather producers. Since the company plans a year ahead of time, it was unprepared for when the trend hit.
“There are not enough feathers in the world to meet all this demand,” Mullen said.
The company is coping by ramping up production for 2012 and dividing the supply it has left now into 16-feather packages it's calling Fashion Packs, which it expects to have ready for fly shops in three to four weeks.
In the meantime, prices for the most desirable feathers are climbing by the week. And that relatively small niche, fly-tying hobbyists, are finding themselves outnumbered.
“It's absolutely bonkers now,” Mullen said. “It's going worldwide.”
Feathers in fashion
Think back a few decades, and it's easy to recall Cher wearing feathers in her hair.
Interest in feathers reignited within the last year, with appearances in hair and jewelry on runways and in fashion magazines. Miley Cyrus rocked feather hair extensions at the MTV Europe Music Awards in November and Gwyneth Paltrow sported feather earrings at the Grammys.
While fake feathers might work for a garment, there's a reason why real feathers are a must for hair, Bowers said. Feathers, like hair, are animal products that can withstand washing and blow-drying and curling.
The craze has spread rapidly. Bowers said he hears from out-of-state callers seeking feathers. Some customers are buying in colors like teal and fuchsia to put in the manes of their horses and coats of their dogs.
In Bend, a stylist stations herself every Saturday in the newly opened Merchants' Market offering feather extensions. Another local stylist announced the service recently on Craigslist, and a letter board on Third Street advertised them this week.
When salon co-owners Andrea Benedetto and Cindy Beckwith wanted to offer feather extensions in their La Pine salon, Cindy's Haircuts & Nature's Gifts, Benedetto raided her husband's gear.
Beckwith crimps the feather to the hair so it hooks in. Other methods of attachment, she said, involve using heat to meld the feather to a piece of hair.
They did it first on themselves with Benedetto's husband's stock. Now they offer it for $5 for the first feather and $2 for each feather after that. Beckwith said she's seen the service priced from $5 to $45.
The duo held an open house Sunday to tempt customers to weave into their manes feathers in browns and purples and reds.
“The younger women want bright colors,” Benedetto said. “Older women want something more subdued because they worry about what an employer might think of a 40-year-old with feathers in her hair.”
Marlene Craig, 67, of La Pine, opted for a lavender feather to blend into silver hair Sunday. She plans to keep it in for about a month, although Beckwith said the extensions can stay in for about six months.
“I just think it's a nice fashion statement,” Craig said. “It is not just limited to the young — older people are trying it, too. And why not?”
Feather business
For stylists, the most sought-after feathers — or hackles, in fly-tying nomenclature — are the long, thin ones that come from the nape of the rooster's neck to its tail. This section is called the saddle. Many come in a black-and-white striped pattern called grizzly.
In fly shops, the feathers are often sold as a saddle, attached to the skin. One saddle, said Bowers, can hold 200 to 500 feathers. They range in quality, but a good saddle retails for about $75 in shops.
Bowers said it's the saddles, particularly the ones called Euro saddles, that have become unavailable. While The Patient Angler had inventory this week, Bowers said other shops have run out.
“It might take a fly tier eight years to burn through that many,” Bowers said of the Euro saddles. “For these gals, it can make five to six pairs of earrings.”
Or for hair extensions, selling the feathers at $5 a piece, a 200-feather saddle can be worth $1,000.
The market has responded accordingly. One eBay seller on Thursday listed five saddle feathers for $40.
“Feathers are almost doubling in price every week,” said Beckwith, who declined to reveal her supplier.
Whiting Farms fields 20 to 30 calls a day from those wanting feathers for fashion, Mullen said. But the company's approach is to continue selling exclusively to fly shops.
“Our main focus is, always has been and probably always will be fly tying,” he said. “We are hopefully supplying the gals with what they need, we get a sale and it helps the fly shops.”
In addition to the Fashion Packs, which will have a suggested retail price of about $20 for 16 feathers, Whiting Farms is also dying feathers in a rainbow of colors to appeal to fashionistas. While dry flies sometimes incorporate bright hues or sparkle to mimic the coloring of insects, the saddle hackles have traditionally been offered shades of brown, black and white.
“Who knows, maybe some new fly designs will develop from this,” Mullen said.
Between shrinking availability and increasing price for saddle feathers, some anglers have taken to the Web to grumble.
“My storage system is dust proof, moisture proof, bug proof and now dog proof. Looks like I need to make it daughter proof,” said the Whiskey Creek Fly Fishing blog.
Bowers said he has heard from some fellow shop owners who are less than pleased about the new traffic. He said he responded early by increasing his orders and has so far been able to supply both groups. A while ago, he also created his own version of the Whiting Fashion Pack, which he sells for $5. Those interested in fashion are also trying the shop's other feathers, from guinea to peacock to pheasant.
Benedetto's husband, avid fly fisherman Rick Benedetto, just shrugs when talking about the trend. He can wait to get more hackles until next year.
“It's probably just a fad,” he said. “But you never know, some fads stick around for a while.”
Heidi Hagemeier can be reached at 541-617-7828 or at
hhagemeier@bendbulletin.com.
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From bendbulletin.com - published daily in Bend, Oregon, by Western Communications, Inc. Copyright 2005.