by Susanne Kathol, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

In a fearless case of survival of the fittest, animal print is a trend that never seems to go out of style. Animal prints are known as one of the longest standing patterns in fashion, representing an enduring trend that continues to get reinterpreted and presented on runways every season. This trend is being hunted down everywhere in fashion, accessories, jewelry and home décor. Where does this fascination with animal prints come from? Here's a look at the history of animal print in fashion, why it has such staying power and tips on incorporating this wildly popular trend into your fashion wardrobe.
Animal Print: The Call of the Classic Thought to be one of the first materials used for clothing and bodily decoration, furs and animal hides have been used dating back to the days of the cavemen. In fact, many psychologists believe that fashion's fixation with animal prints is because the patterns are locked into our DNA--going back to a time when our ancestors were hunter-gatherers and animal skins were treasured for their warmth.

Throughout history, kings and other high-ranking people have used animal print rugs as a sign of status. They were occasionally used in garments, but full animal skins were most often made into rugs as a showcase, just as mounted animals are displayed as trophies. Imported and exotic African furs were seen as a status symbol that was affordable only to royal families and the richest and most powerful members of society. Today leopard skin is still worn by the highest ranking men in African tribes.

Over the years, fashion designers, Hollywood and celebrities alike have been instrumental in bringing animal print into mainstream fashion and design. Leopard print has long been considered one of the most popular animal prints, distinguishable by its small brown and tan spots. And the more it resembles the real thing, the better!

The Rise of the Print

In 1925, American film actress Marian Nixon created quite a sensation in the fashion world by matching her new fur coat with her pet. She was seen parading a pet leopard on a leash down Hollywood Boulevard. A few years later a well-known Paris atelier created a golden silk outfit matched with a leopard skin jacket. Jeanne Paquin, an accomplished French fashion designer, known for her modern and innovative designs in the 1920s and 30s, used a lot of fur in her collections and created quite a reaction when she designed a leopard coat. In the 1940s the Paris couture house Callot Sistes made a day dress with a large leopard collar and fur inlay lining in the pockets.

The 1947 spring-summer collection by Christian Dior is often credited as the first to use leopard as a print and not fur for a day dress called Jungle and a silk-chiffon evening gown called Afrique. It represented an example of the post-war return to glam and provided a welcome reprieve from the stodgy, restrained styles women had been wearing since World War II--primarily because of fabric rationing. Dior also often used leopard fur for large cuffs on velvet evening coats, for hats or outerwear.

American designer Norman Norell made leopard print famous in the 1940s, featuring a full white chiffon skirt with a daringly low-cut, halter-neck leopard-print bodice.

In the 1950s, Roger Vivier, a French fashion designer best known for creating the stiletto heel, produced a leopard-like print on satin in shades of bright blue, with matching shoes and bags. Adrian Adolph Greenberg, most widely known as Adrian, was Hollywood's foremost costume designer during the 1930s and 40s and dressed such stars as Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Katharine Hepburn, and in 1951 created a dress in leopard-print fabric.

Marilyn Monroe wore a lovely leopard print scarf during her 1954 honeymoon in Japan with Joe DiMaggio. Wearing leopard was synonymous with great sophistication and elegance. And it was like that during the 50s and 60s when film stars like Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve wore it.

The end of the 1960s saw the rise of hippies as well as animal prints being introduced into popular women's apparel. In the next several decades, animal print managed to transcend the hippie subculture and it infiltrated mainstream society, spreading to mass produced fashion pieces and home décor. It was leopard once again that was responsible for the first successes of Roberto Cavalli, an Italian fashion designer, in the 1970s.

Rocker Rod Stewart flaunted animal print in the 1970s and Blondie's Debbie Harry promoted the trend in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the Spice Girls walked on the wild side in animal print and today all different types of animal prints are spotted on runways, celebrities and everyday goods. Internationally acclaimed designers such as Betsey Johnson, Roberto Cavalli and Prada have been big supporters of animal print and have consistently included it in their collections over the years.

Why is Animal Print So Intriguing?

Animal prints add a wild, exotic and untamed element to any season, giving the wearer a boost of confidence and air of sophistication. Synonymous with luxury and wealth, animal-print pieces and accessories are considered timeless fashion investments and prized wardrobe possessions.

Regularly spotted on fashion runways, Hollywood stars and celebrities, animal prints offer mainstream fashion a cutting-edge, designer appeal. Animal prints allow even the most conservative person the ability to show their wild side, bringing instant attention to any fashion statement.

And most importantly, people love prints. Animal prints are pleasing to the eye, very versatile and with so many different prints to choose from, there is a perfect print for everyone.

Wearing Animal Print--The Laws of the Jungle

Animal Print: The Call of the Classic Here are a few common techniques designers use to tame animal prints for wildly appealing statements.

Find your personal print and stick with it. Combining different types of prints into one look can be a recipe for disaster.

It is always a good idea to start small and keep it simple--less is more when it comes to animal prints. Oftentimes simply adding animal-print inspired jewelry, a key accessory (scarf, shoes or handbag) or one wardrobe piece (blouse or jacket) is all you need to spice up your look. And don't forget the color! Bright spots of color combined with animal print makes a bold statement.

Incorporate the popular print colors into jewelry designs, such as using black and white Swarovski crystal or zebra "jasper" beads to resemble the striking pattern of a zebra. Or tigereye gemstone beads for a fierce style.

Bring this playful trend into your wardrobe with other animal-inspired jewelry, not necessarily animal print, but rather the animals themselves. Examples include snake-shaped bracelets or necklaces and animal charm pendant necklaces.
Animal Print: The Call of the Classic

Have fun letting your wild side out!

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