Friday, September 28, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Zebras and Giraffes and Snakes, Oh My!

Just when you thought animal prints would finally go the way of the wooly mammoth, they seem to have reared their ugly heads once more. It's not just the gaudy home shopping network brands or the kooky avant garde designers. Literally everyone and their grandmother is churning out piece after piece of safari-inspired attire. Fashion's powers that be, from haute couture to high street, just can't get enough of this fad! Not content with brandishing leopard spots and tiger stripes, they have unleased the entire animal kingdom upon us. At first I let out a defeated sigh when I once again saw this coming, wondering if we're stuck in animal overload for all eternity. Then I figured, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So, after perusing the latest offerings of fauna fever, I am happy to report that this season's offerings are even more exotic and eye-catching than the last few. To save you time and money, I've digested the selections so you don't have to hack your way through the jungle. Here are my affordable and wearable picks for this fall's working girl.

Zebra seems to be the most ubiquitous new animal in town. Some would say that zebra is the new neutral. And really, what doesn't black and white go with? I found this print so functional, I bought a pair of luciously touchable zebra-print calf hair ballet flats from one of my perennial favorites, Me Too New York (which, by the way, I scored on ebay for just $35!). If you're not familiar with this brand, they make the most comfortable, urban-friendly shoes with very cushioned insoles and thick textured rubber soles. Their ballet flats feel like tennis shoes but look much cuter. I own 3 pairs of the ballet flats. Honestly, after wearing Me Too's athletic-bottomed shoes, I'm spoiled for life -- I barely even glance at other brands of ballet flats. You can browse your fave patterns of Me Too's famous "Nevada" ballet flats on Zappos for $82.95 or at Lori's Shoes for $70.00. However, you can only buy the zebra-print ones at now for $79.99, as well as many other colors and prints for less.

You'll see no shortage of zebra in stores this season. From belts to shoes to purses, zebra is truly one of the most versatile prints. Dooney & Bourke, which has frankly gotten a little juvenile in recent years with their plethora of obsessively cheesy prints, has finally hit the jackpot with some smart patterns. Their zebra handbag line (right) is one of the best adapted and most wearable I've seen in that print.

Steve Madden manages to make basic black and white zebra look positively adorable in the "Brinkk" peep-toe wedge topped with a big bow (left), available at Zappos for $93.95. This style also comes in leopard print for those who just can't get enough. Of course, if you do opt for leopard, do your pocketbook a favor and skip the Zappos price tag in favor of Target's Mossimo "Dodie" leopard peep-toe wedges for a more palatable $24.99. Bargain brand Bandolino takes a stab with "Zasper", a lofty 3.5-inch calf hair zebra pump with sharp seaming and a strategic peep-toe (right), all for the sale price of $59.99.

Like your zebra a little off-the-wall? Opt for Steve Madden's "Barbi" (left) peep-toe flat for a refreshing combination of a brown/ivory zebra accented by vivid emerald green trim, available at for $79.99.

Continuing on the African safari, spottings of giraffe are becoming more frequent. This motif is simply brilliant! Slightly exotic and a little more fun, the giraffe print ranges from large geometric markings to small roundish splotches, and the background runs the gamut from stark white to camel.

Dooney (right) scores once more with its rendition of a bold brown giraffe on white in luxurious calf hair. And, Steve Madden nails it again with Lejune-G (left), a city-friendly 3-inch peep-toe pump in a slightly different colored giraffe pony hair, this time brown on beige. I'm also a fan of Linea Paolo's sumptuous brown and ivory "Germaine" giraffe pumps (right), another Nordstrom offering. Although the thought of wearing 4-inch heels in the city makes me think twice about the $119.95 price tag.

Cheetah, among the most prolific cats on the prowl (pardon the pun), gets a new spin in J. Crew's "Lucia" cheetah-dot print ballet flats (left). Although, at $238, I'm not exactly purring (sorry! I don't know what's gotten into me). Steve Madden once again comes to the rescue with their own fetching variation on the cheetah-dot print in the "Spirral" peep-toe flat (right)for only $31.99 at I guess there's more than one way to skin a cheetah (okay, now you can tar and feather me).

But J. Crew seems like a bargain compared to anything with "Marc Jacobs" in the name. And yet, I can't resist these whimsical "Mouse" print calf hair flats (left), complete with suede ears and nose, from the Marc by Marc Jacobs line. No one pokes fun better than Marc Jacobs. So if you have an overwhelming urge to laugh at the establishment, plunk down $355 for these tongue-in-cheek mouse-motifed flats at Nordstrom.

Feel like taking a trip to the outback? Get your hands on this bold "Kangaroo Jungle" print top (right) from Gwen Stefani's edgy L.A.M.B. label. Looking for a more subtle jungle fever? Even my fear of full-on animal print clothing melts away at this sophisticated spotted sweater from Classiques Entier (left), Nordstrom's house brand. Not quite leopard or cheetah, it's vaguely reminiscent of -- maybe a lynx? There, I just saved Gwen Stefani thousands of dollars in product research for next fall's designs.

Need even more refinement? You'll fall for this adorable Charles Gray pleated skirt (right) with a darling front bow in a subtle work-appropriate leopard print against a muted gray background, not terribly scary at $158. And although I generally abhor lound prints on large expanses of drapey fabric, I find this Momzee zebra-print kimono tunic (left) strangely sophisticated to wear with skinny jeans, wide-leg trousers, or black cigarette pants. I know it's designed as maternity wear, but I think this fluid empire-waisted piece could look good on most anyone, and at a clearance price of $29.99, most anyone can afford this.

By the way, animal print doesn't mean you have to give up your primary colors. Check out this stunning jewel-toned dress from Kay Unger (right), surprisingly affordable at $149.90 at Also, this ruby-red tunic from Michael Kors (left), just $79.50 at Nordstrom, turns up the sexiness quotient of a black suit. Yet another Steve Madden winner is this purple zebra-print camisole (right), equally sassy under a suit, cardigan, or bare for the evening. The sale price of $24.50 at Macy's is the real winner here.

Prefer your animals in small doses? I adore this snow leopard print skinny belt from Nine West (left), on sale for just $29.99. This is strikingly similar to Coach's ocelot line which previewed a couple of years ago -- Coach is always ahead of the game. Missed it the first time around? You can now catch Coach's ocelot coin purses and iPod cases on ebay (right). Don't forget umbrellas, accent scarves, and costume jewelry.

Personally, I can't get enough of snakeskin, particularly shoes, belts, and bags. The muted earthy tones make it a great neutral to pair with almost any color in your wardrobe. It's also more timeless than your run-of-the-mill animal print.

Nine West has the perfect answer to an office-friendly snakeskin: a 1.5-inch kitten-heel pump, "Sabyne" (left), with just a slight peep-toe and a thin ankle strap, at Zappos for $82.99. Pair with any color pants or solid skirt for a little exotic flavor in your daily work routine. Want to add another inch? Try Bandolino's "Barb", a pointy-toe pump with cutouts in either black-white or brown-camel snake (right), on sale for $39.99. Need even more height? Step out in Isaac Mizrahi's for Target Riley snakeskin 3.25-inch pumps (right), also available in black-white or brown camel snake for just $29.99.

With your $53 savings, splurge on JC Penney's metallic clutch (left) for $34.95, available in silver, bronze, gold, and pewter, plus Target's beige snakeskin headband (right), $7.99, and red snakeskin hinged bracelet (right), $12.99.

Happy hunting, and beware of the leopards lurking around every corner!