October 05, 1987 12:00 PM

That memorable flick The Graduate clearly meant different things to different people. “None of us can forget Mrs. Robinson wearing animal-print underwear,” says fashion director Sal Ruggiero of Chicago’s Marshall Field’s. “There is a certain sexiness about animal prints.” So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson—even from those of us who did forget—for helping to inspire Cheetah Chic. When it comes to clothes and accessories this fall, skin is apparently in. From the Serengeti to Sears, it’s a jungle out there.

Animal prints have always been around, but this year major designers like Bill Blass and Patrick Kelly have declared open season on fabrics patterned after cheetahs, zebras, leopards and pythons. Says Blass promotion director Tom Fallon: “Animal prints are wildly successful. Women haven’t had fashions like these in their closets for many a season, and they’re quite excited about them.”

Explanations for the phenomenon abound. Some credit the current revival of late-’50s fashions; others say it’s an offshoot of the safari look that was inspired by the movie Out of Africa. Benetton’s director of public relations, Sally Fischer, offers her own pet theory on why giraffe-and horse-patterned sweaters are among her company’s biggest animal-print sellers. “I think it’s because those animals are long and sleek,” she says. “I guess there’s an underlying theme of escapism somewhere.”

The wild world of fashion is divided on whether animal prints and skins will endure or be passé by spring. Hollywood chronicler Jackie Collins, who has made animal prints her trademark for years, is afraid they may be getting too popular. “The next thing you know, they’ll be wearing them on Dallas,” she says, hinting that the day Sue Ellen turns up in leopard-look toreadors is the day Jackie Collins crawls out of them. “It’s a sleek look,” she says. “I guess people saw it so much on me, it became extremely popular.”

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