Skin Game

Last year it was pony

this year it's python. The skin, or prints that look like it, has slithered its way into style.

Focus On Fashion

May 07, 2000|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Forget florals. Ditch the dots. Lose the leopard: Python is the pattern of the moment, and for good reason.

Python looks feminine and strong. It's fun, flirty and modern, not to mention sexy, exotic and just a little dangerous.

"You have to be brave to wear it," says Toni James, who has stocked her cozy, fashion-forward store, Katwalk, on East Read Street with python pants, skirts and jackets in tangerine, teal and fuchsia embossed leather by Oscar Leopold, Anja Flint and other designers.

"It's an animalistic kind of thing," adds Nordstrom East Coast fashion stylist Heather Hested. "It's sophisticated."

Python -- a longtime favorite of designers -- began slithering back into closets last fall when fashion designer Tom Ford of Gucci showed silk python-print pants, a snakeskin dress and snakeskin bikini top and shorts. Vogue put a python trench coat at the top of its list of 10 spring essentials. Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz and Charlize Theron have all been spotted wearing the hottest animal print to hit fashion since leopard, zebra and pony stormed into stores in recent years.

But real python isn't for everyone. For starters, it's pricey. That Yves St. Laurent python trench will set you back $3,995. A Fendi python baguette handbag costs $1,695. And a pair of Gucci python pants runs $3,650.

Then there's the animal-rights issue. "All species of python are potentially endangered," says Kim Krier of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

That's why California outlawed the sale of all python products two decades ago. Reportedly, Cameron Diaz had to order her Chanel python stilettos from Paris.

Real python isn't the only way to get the look. Python is being printed on everything from sleek pleather (vinyl) pants, skirts and jean jackets, to filmy silk and rayon, to leather cuff bracelets and headbands, purses and sandals.

Leather that's been embossed and glazed looks so much like real python, one has to check the label -- and the price tag -- to be sure. "You don't have to buy a real python jacket for thousands of dollars," says Irene FitzGerald, a consultant for Nine West, which currently sells python-embossed leather shoes, handbags and jackets. "You can get a fake one for $300 or get a pair of python-print jeans for $60."

In addition to the basic grays and naturals, python prints come in a rainbow of colors. Consider a fuchsia python bikini, a pair of lime-green leather Capris or a lilac leather baguette bag.

The truly wild can pair python with florals or polka dots. Those who are more cautious can temper python with denim or solid black or white.

Don't go head to toe in python, the experts advise. A little goes a long way. "Because it's a trend, you have to be careful," says Tina Baker, a spokeswoman for GUESS? Inc. "You don't want to spend too much."

A small dose of python -- a pair of sandals or jeans in gray or brown tones, or even a belt -- can update last summer's clothes and won't cost a lot of money.

After all, this summer's python will eventually become last season's pony. When it does, don't despair. "Hold onto it," advises FitzGerald. "You're going to want to wear it again in a couple of years."

Keeping the slink in your skin

Python is a type of leather and should be treated as such, says Sandy Blye, spokeswoman for the Leather Apparel Association. Here's how to care for python and python-printed leather.

Try not to let it get wet. "If you know it's going to rain, don't wear it," Blye says. If leather does get wet, make sure to dry it way from direct heat.

Hang leather coats on a wide-shouldered hanger to maintain shape.

Have leather items cleaned at a reputable leather cleaner. Call the Leather Apparel Association (212-924-8897) or check its Web site (info@leatherassociation.com) for a leather cleaner near you.

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