Animal prints are in fashion again but they have never really gone; just ask anyone from Kate Moss to Madonna.
Can a non-leopard-print girl change her spots?
Does animal print ever go out of fashion? It seems to creep back every year regardless of whether or not it figures on the catwalk. Right now it really is everywhere, on anything and everything from frocks and socks to cardigans and clutch bags and most celebrities, from Kate Moss to Madonna. I used to think animal prints were a love or hate thing. You either wore them or you didn't. You were a leopard print person or you weren't. I have to say I'm not.
My least favourite video ever is Shania Twain's That Don't Impress Me Much, in which the singer, dressed head-to-foot in garish leopard print, thumbs a lift on a dusty motorway. She even carries a matching hat box and has a fake tail swinging from her leopard print coat. On a bad taste level it's up there with The Pussycat Dolls and Spice Girls. Yet Shania's video effectively put her on the map, made her a global superstar and (wait for it) a fashion icon.
There must be a primeval instinct that lurks within all women. Perhaps we yearn to look like a modern day version of Loana, the cave girl Raquel Welch played in the movie One Million Years BC. Natalie Massenet, of the astonishingly successful designer shopping website Net-a-Porter, might agree. She tells me her only gamble this season was to buy Christopher Kane's bright orange leopard spot cashmere knits.
She needn't have worried. They were the first to sell out and are now being mercilessly copied on the high street, where animal print is a big trend. This season, prints are crucial full stop, so I guess there was never any question of tiger, cheetah, ocelot, giraffe and the like ranking up there with Louis Vuitton's spicy sandals. Plus there is a giant nod to the Eighties, when big cat prints experienced a dizzy renaissance. There is even an echo of the late Seventies, when Jerry Hall wore leopard print satin frocks, posed so magnificently on Roxy Music LP covers and even growled like a tiger in pop videos.
Can a leopard change his spots? Yes, if you consider how designers like Matthew Williamson and Kane use digital enhancement and clever psychedelic computer tricks to create new textures and patterns (think Damien Hurst's spots meet Andy Warhol's screen prints). Italian designers adore animal print. It's not just part of their psyche, it's the signature of Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana. This season even minimalists like Miuccia Prada have included supersized snake prints on their crinkly non-iron dresses.
But perhaps the most heart-stoppingly beautiful animal prints come courtesy of the French, especially Christophe Decarnin for Balmain (gritty leopard print bandage dresses), Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga (devore leopard spots on wide-shouldered dresses) and Albert Elbaz for Lanvin (strapless silk dresses dotted with leopard spots fashioned from exquisite embroidery and sequins). Last week, Scarlett Johansson demonstrated how to wear animal print to greatest effect to launch the new Dolce & Gabbana make-up line. She teamed a grey ocelot hourglass dress by the designers with pointy plain court shoes - not animal print. Less is more is the mantra.
In monochrome, animal print becomes pure jet-set (think Armani). Overdyed in DayGlo it's the mark of a rebel (Marc Jacobs). At its most extreme it is wanton. It can transform a secretarial pencil skirt, pussy-bow blouse or mumsy cardigan into something extraordinarily glamorous. It can also be ultra-chic. Remember the one-shouldered blue ocelot spot Lanvin evening gown Maggie Gyllenhaal wore on the red carpet?
The real reason animal print will always have a presence in fashion is simple. It sells. If ever there was a time to become a leopard print person, it's now.