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BY DESIGN : Drawn to Scale : Animal Attraction to Skins, Real or Faux, Is Natural

October 12, 1995|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This fall, reptilian-inspired fashions and accessories have many people looking as though they're wearing a new skin. They're sporting mock-crocodile hand bags, lizard loafers, snakeskin boots and other scaly styles.

Fashion designers are drawing inspiration from anything that crawls; they're using both genuine, exotic skins and more environmentally correct (not to mention less expensive) faux hides such as mock croc. They've swamped the runways with mock-croc miniskirts, thigh-high mock-croc boots, alligator handbags and vests and bomber jackets with alligator trim.

Some fashion watchers say the croc sightings are a result of the return to elegance and glamour. Mock croc and other skins go with fashion's newfound emphasis on shine and texture.

"Mock croc is the hit of the season," says Sandra Graham, spokeswoman for Escada (USA) Inc., based in New York City. "It's about brilliance and standing out. You're being noticed, but in a subtle way. It's a luxurious look, even if it's faux."

Thanks to improved technology, many faux skins look real enough to shed. High-gloss mock croc, usually made of embossed leather, appears rich and authentic. A mock-croc skirt that goes for $1,300 could cost more than 10 times that if made of genuine crocodile.

"All of the faux skins, faux fur and faux suedes are very trendy," Graham says.

Among the crocodile styles at Escada in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, are a mock-croc jumper ($1,800) and a mock-croc motorcycle jacket ($1,800), as well as vests, blazers and slacks.

A mock-croc piece is perfect for a dressy business lunch or dinner.

"A touch of shine is all you need. It's understated elegance," Graham says. "We're showing mock-croc trousers with sheer printed blouses and mock-croc skirts with cashmere jackets."

Only at night should one dress in more scales, such as Escada's shiny mock-croc jumper with matching knee-high boots ($695).

By using crocodile in their collections, designers are giving a nod to those who have long specialized in clothing and accessories made of authentic exotic skins of all kinds.

"There are good imitations, but there are people who always want the real thing. It's just like fine jewelry," says Jayana Shah, manager of Sirena D'Italia in Fashion Island Newport Beach.

Sirena D'Italia has a menagerie of men's and women's shoes, boots and other accessories made of genuine ostrich, alligator, lizard, antelope, caribou and snake.

Women are snapping up slim-fitting boots that go up to--or above--the knees, while men are wearing alligator loafers and short boots.

There are men's loafers in alligator skin dyed navy, black, chartreuse and other hues ($500), alligator belts ($300 to $465) and women's caribou knee-high boots ($449).

Women's pumps come in all kinds of skins, including snakeskin ($189), ostrich ($789) and alligator ($1,095).

"You can find alligator shoes for $200 to $2,000," Shah says. The difference depends on the quality and quantity of skin used.

An expensive alligator loafer might be made of three pieces of skin, while a cheaper version will have seven or eight smaller pieces stitched together. Shah shows off one of her rarer pieces, a black alligator handbag that sells for $3,900.

"It's expensive because it's hard to find such good, large pieces of alligator skin," she says. The three wide strips used to make the envelope-style bag are consistent in pattern; the alligator skin's distinctive creases or "hinges" must be similar in size.

"If one piece has big hinges and one has small hinges, it won't look good," Shah says.

All skins come from ranch-raised animals, Shah says. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife oversees the import of goods made of exotic skins to ensure that no endangered species are used.

Sirena D'Italia also has accessories made of leather embossed to look like the hides of exotic animals, such as a zebra-striped leather bootie for women ($289), leopard-print leather pumps ($259) and snake-like leather handbag ($369).

Still, some people will invest in a genuine exotic skin because they say no faux skin can match the real hide's look or longevity.

The horn-back alligator is one of the most precious skins used, says Charles Lee, manager of Avventura, a men's shoes and accessories store in South Coast Plaza. A belt made of the horn-backed alligator costs $895--without the buckle--at Avventura.

"It's a small critter. It takes two horn-backed alligators to make one strap," Lee says.

A pair of cowboy boots made of the material are $3,695. A black leather jacket with insets of the skin is $2,500.

Exotic skins "have always been a luxury commodity," Lee says. "But now it's accepted fashion."

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