Written by: Elena Neverovskaya
What Becomes a Legendary Coat?
Behind the scenes of Blackglama.
“Don’t focus on the mink, but on what’s in it.” Jane Trahey
Beautiful coats, famous faces, the legendary history of Blackglama mink has a unique story of a man who makes the beauty of this unique mink into the world. Being on top of the priority list of fur fashion mink differs from mink: Russian from Scandinavian, Scandinavian from North-American and Blackglama stands apart from them all boasting the silkiness and resemblance of velvet with the richest shade of the natural black color which was once compared to the pallete of Hokusai pictures.
Shortly after World War I, given the growing demand for furs, the US industry began to encourage development of the ranching of fur-bearing animals. This was not a new idea in North America. As far back as 1894, silver foxes (mutations of red fox) had been raised specifically for their soft, luxurious, long-haired fur on Prince Edward island in Canada. When the first ranch mink began to appear on the markets in the mid 1920s they were met with skepticism due to its inferior quality. It took years of hard work for farmers to improve the techniques of raising mink in capture and the quality of ranch mink improved dramatically throughout the 1930s and by the mid-1940s the fur trade throughout the entire world came to know that ranch mink were the most desirable for fine mink coats.
Farmers were urged to continue to devote a great deal of thought to the mutations in mating and breeding, as well as the general care of the mink. Although those first ranch-bred mink were their natural dark color, by the 1930s, ranchers saw the potential in breeding the animals for other colors. Matings and crossings of various types of mink produced some interesting results which have come the finest and highest priced mink pelts of today…including the most luxurious fur of the royal Blackglama mink. The most expensive mink in the world has a reason to be the most sought after in the fur fashion thanks to its unique esthetic qualities achieved and taken to perfection by one of the biggest and most successful producers of this royal fur in the world – Zimbal Family (or Robert Zimbal)
Robert Zimbal was born on August 17, 1931. He was a very active and inquisitive child from the beginning. It was obvious that the boy had a particular love for everything connected with nature and at the age of …12 he had his first operation raising green beans for the canning company. The beans had to be picked up by hand and Bob employed 10-15 kids his first year. His entrepreneurial genius became obvious to his proud parents, the operation grew more and more successful and by the age of 16 he had 400 kids and their parents working for him. Having a nice bank account for his age Robert however decided to purchase tractor instead of a car to make his operation more efficient as up to this point he has been working the fields with a homemade tractor, which was converted from an old truck. Quite a mature decision for a boy of 16 years of age.
At the age of 17, the love of his life, Audrey Heling, came with a friend to work in the bean fields and the two met for the first time. Being 18 years old and having graduated from High School young Zimbal had a hefty $10,000 balance in his bank account and took a decision to continue his bean business which he did for another three years until at the age of 21 he was called to served his country in the Korean War. Though away from home for the whole period of 1952-1954 he had been courting Audrey during this time and plans for a fall wedding in 1954 were being made. On September 11th , 1954 Robert and Audrey became a husband and a wife and their first project in this new state was the purchase of 4 acres of land in their home state of Wisconsin to continue growing beans and … to start raising mink.
It was not by chance that Robert paid attention to the growing mink business. His father, Roland Zimbal, was in a partnership with friends since 1937, raising mink under the Sauk Trail Mink Ranch name and Robert quickly saw that mink ranching was what he wanted to do. He worked a full-time evening job and continued to grow his mink farm and by 1960 his operation was already successful enough for his father to leave his partners and join Robert on the Zimbal Minkery. Since they married Audrey was a tremendous help and support for her husband in everything he did, having marvelously managed to give Robert 6 beautiful kids during the first 8 years into the marriage.
In 1965 Robert made a decision which he now recalls as the one that made him. It was one of the best decisions he ever made, even when times got tough he was still able to make money because of this decision. Bob purchased 5 black minks from a farm in Washington. Those minks were exceptional and Robert decided to purchase as many of them as he could afford the following year. He purchased $5,100 worth of mink that year, the mink had good color and helped his breeding stock improve dramatically. Now that Bob had something (some of the best he could find anywhere in the world) to start with he plunged himself into the hard work of bringing the quality of his newly purchased black minks to perfection. The thorough knowledge of genetics and veterinary skills, years of experience in business and total support of his numerous family, deep love and true devotion to the work he was doing – all that resulted in the best black ranch-raised mink in the world.
And the best product deserved to be marketed under the best brand and get the recognition it rightfully deserves. From 1968 Zimbal mink has been sold under the world-famous name of Blackglama at the Seattle based American Legend Fur Auction house – the exclusive distributor of Blackglama mink in the world and the oldest fur auction house in America founded in 1898 at the beginning of the Alaska gold rush. The beautiful (luxurious) furs (Blackglama) raised by the loving hands of this hard-working and astute businessman and the reliable team of his wonderful family for the last several decades have been worn by a whole constellation of international stars from Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Luciano Pavarotty to Kathrine Denev, Liza Minelli, Rudolf Nureev, to such legends of today as Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford and Elle McPherson. Altogether over 40 celebrities made Blackglama their choice in fur fashion and were very enthusiastic about being a face for the brand of this beautiful luxury product in a yearly “What Becomes a Legend Most?” promotional campaign.
Nowadays the Zimbal Minkery is a big family enterprise having all three sons, a daughter running their own farms – all united under the famous Zimbal Minkery name. Their farm is one of the biggest in the United States, currently occupying 400 acres and their reputation for the best quality mink gets the highest respect and recognition in the fur trade. What Becomes a Legend Most?.. Robert has definitely become one!