Wally Dongo is a practical man. He solves problems. He saves money. He recycles. He has learned these skills over 37 years at his trade, where he applies them to that most luxurious of accessories, the fur.
In his second-floor Neiman Marcus salon, Dongo, 64, repurposes decades-old pelts into chic new trenches, vests, and half a dozen other styles. In his hands, 1980s monstrosities are expertly de-poufed, de-bulked, and hemmed into figure-flattering pieces. If a fur is too fragile to be reworked into a flawless garment, he will say so. And then he will turn it into a blanket, a set of pillows, a scarf. Or he might craft a cashmere coat, using the fur for lining and trim.
For Dongo, a fur coat is an investment, and he expects a return for his clients. “The first thing I look at is the condition of the coat,” he says. If the client won’t get at least five years’ wear from the fur, Dongo will suggest stopping at a $300 hem. Younger pelts can undergo full remodeling for around $2,000. “If you’re going to wear it and it’s going to be terrific, it’s a great value.”
Dongo walks up to a silken black mink coat and gives it three quick, strong pulls—tug, tug, tug.
“I can’t hurt a new coat if I wish,” he says.
Photograph: Taylor Castle