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Wild about Animal Prints

Fauna-Inspired Fashion Is All the Rage


An animal-print stole. ©Color & Design Research Room of Kyoritsu Women's Junior College

As the cold weather sets in, clothes and accessories with animal prints, such as leopard stoles and bags, Dalmatian dresses, zebra boots, and other spotted and striped items, are enjoying huge popularity. Accessories that look and feel warm, such as hats and stoles with fur trim or lining, are also selling well. A touch of the wild and cute is the latest undercurrent in street fashions in Japan.

From Leopards to Lizards
Animal prints include the spotted and striped patterns of animals with distinctive markings, such as leopards, tigers, and zebras, as well as the patterns on the skins of snakes, lizards, and other reptiles. The roots of the trend date back to the times when people dressed in fur to keep warm through the winter.

While animal furs were originally used for warmth and protection, in time they became a status symbol. In Europe, for example, ermine fur from a species of weasel called the stoat was considered the ultimate in luxury.

The shift from real furs to animal prints and their use in fashion designs occurred in the 1950s. The trend was sparked by the release of animal print dresses by various French designers and was later fueled by Yves Saint Laurent's leopard-print coats and blouses of the 1960s. In the ensuing decades, the prints found favor among Italian apparel makers and caught on as an expression of feminine sensuality and beauty.


Leopard prints are very popular. ©Color & Design Research Room of Kyoritsu Women's Junior College

Rising Popularity in Japan
In Japan, apparel makers specializing in clothes for mature women have long sold clothing and accessories with animal prints. Outfits with tiger and other animal prints are said to be particularly popular among the women of Osaka, in the Kansai region. The city, incidentally, is home to a well-known professional baseball team named the Hanshin Tigers, whose uniforms are graced with a tiger mark.

The same animal prints that were once considered the exclusive domain of somewhat flamboyant middle-aged women began to catch on among young people in the 1990s. Growing opposition to the use of real furs at this time boosted the popularity of fake furs and animal prints. Then in 2000, the singer and fashion trailblazer Hamasaki Ayumi, an idol of many teenagers, released a CD whose cover showed her wearing leopard-print clothing. A mobile phone with a leopard print designed by Hamasaki was also put on sale, and soon, the leopard pattern was all the rage among young women.

The number of animal print fans continues to rise as young men don hats, scarves, and other accessories sporting such patterns. Leopard-print clothing and accessories for children have also appeared. The image of animal prints is undergoing a transformation from elegant and wild to cute and casual, and in the process these designs are enjoying growing popularity among people from a wide range of age groups. (December 2008)