A feel for the exotic: Fashion likes snakeskin as animal-print option

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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NEW YORK - Skin is in - snakeskin, that is.
Whether it's bags, boots or blouses, the marbled, textured snakeskin look seems to be fashion's new favourite alternative to more traditional animal prints.
It's not that snake - which, except at the very highest price points, is actually embossed leather or fabric in a snakeskin pattern - is new, but it seems fresher than now-ubiquitous leopard and cheetah spots.
Andrea Linett, creative director at Lucky magazine, predicts snake will hold on to that feeling of uniqueness even after being featured on many recent designer runways, including Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Kris Van Assche, Matthew Williamson and Herve Leger. Carolina Herrera's fully beaded rope-weave print shorts for spring had the effect of snakeskin gone glam.
There's a lot to be done with the snakeskin look, Linett says, and it easily navigates back and forth between sexy, edgy and classic.
"A snakeskin boot can be rock 'n' roll if it's in a rock 'n' roll shape, or it's classic if it's in a lady shape," Linett says. Other trends don't always have that privilege, she notes: Metal studs, for example, scream rock 'n' roll or a skirt suit announces a lady.
Snakeskin is "beautiful, rich and earthy," says Abbe Held, creative director of Kooba, known best as a handbag line. Because the surface is textured, there are highs and lows of colour, which instantly adds interest and dimension.
Held explains that she works with printed lambskin that's been cut by the tanner to create the scales that also help the leather hold up well over time. The vintage vibe is also part of the appeal, she says. "It's neutral yet has so much character and personality."
"We're doing a lot of business on snakeskin, in shoes and handbags, especially," says Macy's group vice-president of ready-to-wear fashion Nicole Fischelis. The skin look complements strappy sandals and soft-shape bags, she notes, and a new twist is using a simulated snake print on leggings and tights.
Fischelis puts python in the same category of popularity with alligator- and crocodile-skin looks. "It's the fusion of things - the colours, the graphics, that you can wear it with dresses or sportswear - that makes it more interesting."
There's something glamorous and exotic about skins, agrees Michael Smaldone, Talbots creative director, who has snake accessories planned for spring. But, he warns, colour choice is important because snake can look cheap if its colours aren't sophisticated. Stick with neutrals or rich, deep colours, he says.
Fischelis has been known to carry around a brown-and-beige Coach snake bag. Meanwhile, Lucky's Linett has a pair of favourite beige-tone boots that she gets a lot of use out of. "They're just the right amount of kick so I don't feel boring."
She does, however, have a similarly coloured skinlike sweater that has hung in her closet a few seasons without being worn. "I do fear it's too much," she says.
Held's favourite snake piece is a brown bag, which she likes best paired with an oatmeal-coloured cashmere sweater and jeans - but she'd also wear it with a suit. "It can be your one bag for the season," she says. "I think skin is for all year-round. We've done it in spring, for holiday. It's considered a staple."

Organizations: Lucky magazine, Gucci, Macy's

Geographic location: NEW YORK

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