By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – From wildlife biology to the fur coat trade, Craig Swick knows animals, specifically, their pelts.
After his first trunk show in the Huntley Lodge in 1985 and selling seven coats, Swick was hooked and changed careers immediately.
“I quit [wildlife biology] because selling fur coats is a lot more fun.”
Thirty-five years later, Swick has built a successful business selling fur coats, accessories and bedspreads, among other things. The furs include mink, beaver, lynx, fox and sable to name a few, in a variety of natural colors and dazzling dyes. The business started in 1986 at a location in the Mountain Mall, now The Exchange, and operated there until 2019 when Paparazzi Fur relocated to its new Town Center location.
Back when Big Sky was still an undiscovered ski town, Swick would hold impromptu fashion shows at Whiskey Jacks, now Montana Jacks, and recruit random passersby to model his luxury furs. Swick would give them the full runway experience, using an old Kodak box camera with a flash bulb to take photos.
Explore Big Sky sat down with Swick to learn more about his luxury furs and buying trips around the world. His answers are below.
Some answers have been edited for brevity.
Explore Big Sky: When did you come to Big Sky and start Paparazzi Fur?
Craig Swick: I came to Big Sky in February of 1985. I’m a wildlife biologist as well as a hunter and a trapper, and I used to work for the state of Montana. A manufacturer in New York sent me a bunch of fur coats and asked me to go do a trunk show at some ski resort. I lived in Lewistown, Montana. I had a really successful trunk show for one weekend, and I sold seven fur coats. John Kircher said ‘gee you outta open up a fur coat store here.’ And I go, ‘Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. You got someplace where I could lease a store?’ and he said no, but he said go over in the mall and look around over there, maybe you might find something that you like. So, I went over to the mall and I found a space that I liked. And it’s the space right in front of where the restrooms are on the first floor. I ended up leasing that space, I was there from 1986 until 2019, when they decided to expand the restrooms.
EBS: How big is your team?
C.S.: We have four people, Anita Jackson, Sylvia McMinn, Lisa Whitzel-Lohss and myself. Anita Jackson has been with Paparazzi Fur for nine years after starting in July of 2012. Sylvia McMinn first started with Paparazzi Fur in 1996 when she moved to Big Sky and then she bought coffee shops in the Mountain Mall and the Summit Hotel at Big Sky Resort, which she ran for 17 years. In 2017, Sylvia rejoined the Paparazzi Fur team. Lisa does part-time work for the team.
EBS: Tell me about the products you carry?
C.S.: We carry fur coats, jackets, vests, capes, bedspreads, hats and accessories. We buy from manufacturers all over the world: New York, Montreal, Los Angeles, Paris and Hong Kong, to mention a few locales. We’ve sold coats to customers in all 50 states, as well as foreign countries. I’ve sold several coats to a gal in Austria and France. We’ve sold coats all over the world and we buy coats all over the world. One thing that’s deceiving, is people used to think that a fur coat store in Big Sky was going to be Montana furs, like the Jim Bridger look or the Davy Crockett look. We buy these garments and Sylvia and Anita are frequently in on the buying because we all go to fur fairs and buy, and we buy off of the runways. So, when some fashion model is modeling the coat for a manufacturer if … [Sylvia and Anita] like it, I will buy it because they’re the ones that have to sell it.
EBS: What is your favorite product in the store?
C.S.: A Red Fox Vest with white Shadow Fox Trim and fringe with conchos. That’s my favorite piece in here because I designed it and drew it up.
EBS: What is the best part of working at Paparazzi Fur?
C.S.: Customers always leave happy and frequently come back to see what is new. When people come in to the store, they’re mostly intimidated, but if we can talk them into trying on a few coats, pretty soon they find one and say ‘Jeez this kind of looks nice, I think I might like this. I think I could wear that vest someplace.’ They end up, finding a coat that they like. By and large, nobody ever walks out of the store unhappy. People that walk out of here, they walk out of here happy.
EBS: What is the best business advice you have ever received?
C.S.: Buy garments off of the high fashion runways.
EBS: Anything else you would like to add?
C.S.: Besides looking good in a fur coat, they keep you warm in the winter and will last 20-30 years. Fur coats are biodegradable and do not harm the environment. Paparazzi is the name of the photographer taking pictures of movie stars and socialites. You will want your picture taken in a nice