SOME trends never really take off beyond the catwalk, no matter how much fashion editors hype them. But animal prints are suddenly everywhere - perhaps because they're a way of wearing patterns and retreating into monochromes, colour combinations that most of us still feel happiest wearing.

Azzedine Alaa started it a couple of years back. Now, thanks to the Seventies nostalgia sweeping through fashion, everyone else has followed, with varying degrees of success. The point about wearing animal prints is to remember that less is more (would that Versace had) - looking to Miami Beach just doesn't work in Manchester on a grey autumn afternoon.

A trim on a cuff or a collar looks dramatic, animal prints on boots and shoes can look witty but one should know when to stop. As for background colours to team with the animal prints, stick to black or white.

There are a couple of other ground rules worth bearing in mind: keeping it fairly inexpensive is one (this is a one-season wonder if ever there was one and most of the high street retailers have produced great versions of zebra, tiger and leopard prints).

The second, as if you needed telling, is to keep it fake. This look might hark back to the days when glamorous movie stars swept out of their limousines wearing ocelot skin wraps but the mood now is definitely tongue-in-cheek.

It has to be: although some fashion glossies have swathed models head to toe in the stuff and photographed them as cat-women on the prowl no one - with the possible exception of adolescent boys - can be expected to take this approach seriously.

Does wearing fake prints promote a desire in people to wear the real thing? Carol McKenna, campaign director for Lynx, the anti-fur-trade campaigners, says: 'If the print is on fake fur, we do object to it as we feel it perpetuates the image of fur as desirable. If the print is on anything else, however, like cotton jersey, we're all in favour. It's a compliment, a celebration of the beauty of the animal.'

The craze highlights how far we have moved from our past: where once ancestors draped themselves in fur as a symbol of their potency as hunters and, later on, of their wealth, the emphasis these days is firmly on the decorative.

One final point: the return of animal prints is a sure sign that we have purged ourselves of all that up-tight good taste that until very recently we used to consider so essential. If at the same time we can demonstrate some kind of solidarity with endangered species, then that is a neat bonus.

Short-sleeve leopard jumper, pounds 52, by Fenn Wright & Manson, from Fenwick, 63 New Bond Street, W1; long black stretch gabardine skirt, pounds 75, from Whistles, 12/14 St Christopher's Place, W1, and branches; long black satin gloves, pounds 20, by Cornelia James, from Selfridges, Oxford Street, W1, and Harrods, Knightsbridge, SW1 (nationwide stockist inquiries, 071-499 9423); wide zebra-print belt, pounds 75, by Osprey at Fenwick and Liberty, Regent Street, W1 (or by mail order 0582 765 385); chiffon scarf, from Fenwick.

Black rib, turtle-neck body, pounds 90, and leggings, pounds 100, both by Liza Bruce, from Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1, and The Warehouse, 61 Glassford Street, Glasgow; fake-fur wrap collar, pounds 16.99, from Oasis, 292 Regent Street, W1, and branches nationwide; over-the-knee leopard-print boots, pounds 165, from Russell & Bromley, 24/25 New Bond Street, W1, and selected branches nationwide.

Black velvet, turtle-neck body, pounds 55, by Marie Helvin, from Fenwick, 63 New Bond Street, W1; Selfridges, Oxford Street, W1; Harrods, Knightsbridge, SW1; leopard-print long skirt, pounds 99.99, by Monix, inquiries 081-531 6622; leopard-print beret, pounds 33.50, from The Hat Shop, 58 Neal Street, WC2; chiffon scarf, pounds 16.95, from Fenwick; black leather gauntlets, pounds 45, by Cornelia James, as before; black Bodytoner tights, pounds 3.99, by Aristoc, from major department stores.

Pony-skin waistcoat, pounds 75, from Jigsaw, branches nationwide; white cotton shirt, pounds 42.99, by Ted Baker's Wild Women, Unit 19, The Market, Covent Garden, WC2; zebra print silk scarf, pounds 85, by Stephen Jones, from Joseph, 26 Sloane Street, SW1.

(Photographs omitted)