Style Police: It's a jungle out there

Animal prints are loud and excessive this autumn. Think Bet Lynch on a bad day, says James Sherwood

Combat pants are disappearing faster than snow leopards in a Siegfried & Roy magic act. Rather like decommissioned squaddies, we reluctantly retired our utility uniforms this summer. Khaki cotton combats were just too regimented to work with the grab-bag exotica of the season. Now we're into autumn/winter and utility is finally extinct.

How quickly we forgot the once ubiquitous combat pant. It's the law of the fashion jungle. Instead of dressing like the hunter, designers are inspired by the hunted. Wild exotic animal print has devoured last year's dull khaki cotton.

Fashion has taken a leaf out of Jungle Book this season. Endangered species such as the leopard, tiger and zebra are de rigueur mortis. On the catwalk, Dolce & Gabbana gave us leopard-skin micro-mini skirts that wouldn't cover Mowgli's modesty. Versace skinned the big cat to cover mid-calf boots in tiger and Marni cut crop jackets and A-line skirts in zebra-print ponyskin. Wild animal print invariably stalks the autumn/winter season, but this time round it's a jungle out there.

Designers haven't tamed wild-animal print and used it as nothing more than a dash of exotica - at last they've gone the whole hog. Fash mag agony aunts are going to tell you to restrict animal print to little touches; a discreet zebra-print belt or minuscule leopard-skin bag. Nonsense. We're talking wild here so Style Police wants to see you roar. The message was loud and proud at Dolce & Gabbana when tigress Esther Canades vamped it up in leopard-print chiffon. It's not enough to buy Marni's ponyskin clogs and think you're on top of the trend. No, you want a pair of Gina's leopard- print ponyskin stillie ankle boots and to hell with it. Taste is not an issue here.

We all instinctively know leopard, tiger and zebra print are as vulgar as lap-dancing nights at Stringfellows. Animal hide is not bohemian or gypsy. It's Bet Lynch pulling a pint of milk stout behind the bar at The Rover's Return. It's Diana Dors wearing a mink bikini and reclining on a tiger-skin rug. It's Debbie Harry strutting round the stage after a couple of tequilas and belting out "Maria". Whether you're thinking chatty barmaid, Fifties streetwalker or ageing rock chick, wild-animal print takes no prisoners. If you want tasteful go to Jaeger.

How to wear it

August Vogue said it all with fashion editor Tina Laakkonen's Animal Magic shoot. Laakkonen clashed this season's searing blood-orange colours with a veritable zoo of animal pelts. Gina's snakeskin and zebra print ponyskin stillie ankle boots won the Style Police Vulgar as my Auntie Kay award. Fabulous.

Break yourself in with a pair of ponyskin print boots. Make sure they're to the knee if flat or mid-calf if stiletto. Clash it with a neat under- arm handbag. Then take it to the bridge with a piebald ponyskin A-line skirt. If you really want to work it then go for a skinny coat which stops on the knee.

A word of warning. In pictures, fake fur printed to ape an animal looks gorgeous. In real life, synthetic fake fur feels like a badger's underbelly. Fake fur doesn't give; it starts balding after the second outing and it looks totally tatty. Do you want to go there? Style Police urges you to just say no.

Where to buy it

There is one word only on your shoe shopping list: Gina. Hunt down the leopard print cowhide ankle boots (pounds 410). Kill for the snakeskin and pony numbers (pounds 445) by Gina Couture. Alternatively, just swing by the store for the best edit of zebra, tiger, leopard and dalmatian print boots, stiletto sandals and under-arm bags. Jimmy Choo's tiger-skin mid-calf boots (pounds 495) are definitely worth wrestling Johnny Weissmuller for.

Ponyskin doesn't come cheap. Some designers have literally skinned the odd palomino to get that authentic horsehair texture but all the boots Style Police are recommending come in cowhide. We particularly love Russell & Bromley's kitten-heeled zebra-print mid-calf boots (pounds 345) in cowhide. They go a treat with R&B's leopard-print handbag (pounds 175) which has the cutest Bet Lynch diamante buckle.

Don't worry if your calves are screaming "anything but boots". Diana Dors would have sold her mink bikini to buy LK Bennett's kitten-heeled leopard-skin slippers (pounds 169), or the Fifties stiletto-heeled zebra-skin pumps (pounds 169). The jury is still out on whether the high street can copy ponyskin A-line skirts or the skinny knee-length coats. If you simply can't wait for Top Shop's take on wild animal print pieces, then maybe you'd be tempted by Marni's zebra-skin A-line skirt for pounds 780. Then again, maybe not.

Address book

Gina (tel: 0171 409 7090). Jimmy Choo (tel: 0171 235 0242).

Russell & Bromley (tel: 0171 629 6903). LK Bennett (tel: 0171 491 3005).

Marni at Joseph (tel: 0171 823 9500).

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