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October-December 1998

Animal-Print Fashion

Once again this winter, leopards, zebras, snakes, and giraffes are walking the streets of Japan. No, there hasn't been a mass escape of animals from the zoo. We're talking about women's fashion. The hot fashion these days is not clothes made of actual animal skin or fur, but skirts, sweaters, and scarves made of animal-print fabric.

In Japan, animal prints were initially worn only by a few women who preferred head-turning, colorful designs. But over the past few years, as animal-print fashions have made their way into the Paris and Milan collections, a wider segment of Japanese women have come to view them as a winter clothing option.

This year's most popular animal print is leopard. The women's sections of department stores are overrun with this animal, whose spots appear on scarves, bags, hats, and umbrellas. One department store offers leopard-print goods in a variety of color schemes--the black spots don't just appear with the usual yellow background, but also on white, pink, green, red, and blue. This store--where scarves alone come in about 50 different prints--reports having sold 50 percent more animal-print merchandise this fall than it did last fall.

Since 1997, the primal appeal of animal-print fashions has caught on among female consumers of a wider age range. Nowadays, animal prints are popular among high-school, middle-school, and even elementary-school girls. Because uniforms are mandatory for most Japanese middle- and high-school students, and because school dress codes also place restrictions on colors and materials for bags and coats, most girls cannot wear animal-print clothing to school. Instead, they enjoy the fad in more subtle ways, by pinning animal-print badges on their bags or tying back their hair with animal-print accessories.

But on the weekends or after school, the girls (including a small segment of elementary schoolers) walk around town with handbags, rucksacks, mufflers, gloves, and shoes emblazoned with animal prints. Sometimes you can even see a little girl skipping along happily through the streets--her mother clasping her hand tightly--wearing her very favorite leopard-print skirt.

Photos: Animal prints are showing up all over these days.