Over the years, leather has had many images, but often has played an ironically dual role: badge of rebellion at one end of the spectrum, status symbol at the other.
Lately, those images are merging. Big-name fashion designers -- among them Claude Montana, Donna Karan and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel -- have successfully usurped leather's bad-boy image for high-ticket items.
Consider Ms. Karan's version of the motorcycle jacket, which sold out of department stores this fall, retailing for more than $700.
Made of buttery soft leather and cut long enough to cover the hips, this jacket's primary resemblance to the real thing is its zipper detailing. Purveyors of honest-to-goodness motorcycle styles point out that bikers need a sturdier leather; it helps cut the wind and can help protect the body in an accident. The jacket is cropped at the waist to make sitting on the bike more comfortable.
All of which, of course, means nothing to fashion designers or their customers, who are more interested in aesthetics than practicality.
Are animal prints making a comeback, again? Last week there were cheetah spots in the windows of Bloomingdale's, on catsuits and dresses by Tapemeasure. They were also in the windows of Barneys New York, on dresses by Azzedine Alaia. And a blonde in the Alaia animal print dress is on the January cover of Allure magazine.
The bride-to-be who wants to look like a movie star on her wedding day can order the very same design that appears in the new version of "Father of the Bride" for $4,500.
Designed by the film's costume designer, Susan Becker, the gown plays a leading role in the Touchstone Pictures film.
"It's a sweetly demure dress, perfect for the all-American girl," says L.A. bridal shop owner Renee Strauss, who worked with Ms. Becker on creating the gown. Ms. Becker says it was Grace Kelly's own classic gown that inspired the film's gown, rather than the one worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the original movie.
The gown itself? It's in ivory silk duchesse satin, hand-beaded with pearls and translucent sequins; there's a bow in the back, a chapel train and lots of Alencon lace.
To order the gown, contact Renee Strauss, 8401 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, Calif. 90211; (213) 653-3331.