THERMOPOLIS, WYO. — The holiday season is a key sales period for retailers across the country, but Christmas Day marks a major milestone for one Wyoming small business. That’s when “The Hateful Eight” hits movie screens, offering audiences an extended look at a custom bison coat created by Thermopolis native Merlin Heinze.
Actor Kurt Russell will be wearing the enormous winter jacket in the Quentin Tarantino western set in Wyoming during the 1870s. The story follows a bounty hunter played by Russell, who must wait out a blizzard along with seven other nefarious characters packed together in a cramped stagecoach stop.
Together with wife, Barb, Merlin operates Merlin’s Hide Out, a Thermopolis tannery and retailer specializing in luxury fur garments and accessories made from bison and other animal hides.
In September 2014, they were contacted by costume designer Courtney Hoffman, who was looking for hides to use for coats in “The Hateful Eight.” Because of his previous work producing similar coats, the production ended up hiring Merlin to make Russell’s coat—or actually, eight versions of the same garment.
“It takes two hides to make one coat, and the challenge was to find enough matching hides to make all eight,” Barb said.
That can be tough, because both hides must closely match in color, size and other attributes. The Heinzes ended up looking through more than 250 hides to find the necessary 16 matching buffalo hides.
Hoffman, who was not available for comment, patterned Russell’s coat after one in the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.
In a story published earlier this month on the website for the Costume Designers Guild, Hoffman explained that Tarantino needed eight versions of Russell’s coat—and 12 versions of other costumes—because the director is famous for staging epic scenes of blood-soaked violence.
“I had been a costumer on [Tarantino's] ‘Django Unchained.’ I knew what to expect on the set. I knew how blood-hungry he gets,” she told Valli Herman.
Designed to accentuate Russell’s ominous screen presence, the huge coat was heavy.
“It was so heavy that it hurt Kurt’s back at times,” she said. “He’s as manly as they get, so if it hurt him, you can imagine.”
Such heavy buffalo coats were prized for their warmth, something that today’s synthetic fibers can’t match, Barb said.
Merlin started tanning hides in a spare bedroom in 1997, when he decided to use a couple of beaver hides to make a new pair of gators for himself, she said.
“As it often happens, ‘a couple’ of beaver hides turned into ‘many.’ The following winter, when a good friend asked him to tan a buffalo hide, I put my foot down and said, ‘Not in the spare bedroom,’” she said.
That launched Merlin’s Hide Out, which has since become a recognized leader in producing top-quality buffalo hides, which the company ships to all 50 states and nine countries. Coats like the one Russell wears in The Hateful Eight retail at Merlin’s Hide Out for nearly $3,000.
But don’t count on picking one up in time for Christmas. The company has a month-long waiting list for custom orders.
The Heinzes have seen the Hateful Eight trailer, and are “extremely excited to see it when it comes out,” Barb said.
The film, which has received generally positive early reviews, opens in limited release in 70mm wide-format theaters on Christmas Day, and on screens nationwide on Dec. 31.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].