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Exotics becoming everyday item with upscale style

Fashion moves in waves, and in today's easier, unfussy stage, glitz and gold might seem over the top. But boring isn't the only way to do a pared-down look. Exotic skins — and many more faux exotic skins — can bridge the gap between too much and not enough.

SAMANTHA CRITCHELL
The Associated Press
Modified: May 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm •  Published: May 4, 2012
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Fashion moves in waves, and in today's easier, unfussy stage, glitz and gold might seem over the top. But boring isn't the only way to do a pared-down look. Exotic skins — and many more faux exotic skins — can bridge the gap between too much and not enough.

Choices go from neon embossed leathers that mimic python and ostrich to rare and very expensive tree frog skin. It's mostly accessories, but there are a lot of skin-inspired printed fabrics out there, too.

People are drawn to the look because it's "discreet luxury," says Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. She sees consumers pulling back from ostentatious embellishment in favor of pieces with a longer life, and that goes for the wealthy, too.

"If we're talking about the real thing, they're investment pieces. You buy them for quality and longevity — a croc, alligator or ostrich shoe or bag — you'll truly have it forever, and you'll be able to pass it down to your children, nieces and nephews. Even the rich are thoughtful about how they spend their money," Sherin says.

And for those who cannot afford the real thing, the mimicking leathers and quite sexy prints are good stand-ins, she says.

"It's a trend because it's available to everyone," she says.

In its May issue, Harper's Bazaar features Penelope Cruz in a croc-embroidered gown and croc sandals by Givenchy; Salvatore Ferragamo's emerald croc beauty case; croc boots from Calvin Klein; and a Reed Krakoff croc luggage piece.

Yes, exotic skins and their less expensive cousins are widely available, agrees Jana Matheson, creative director of Judith Leiber, but it's still an "insider" look, which, of course, seems to make it all the more desirable.

The leather bags at Leiber run $195-$795, while genuine skins can cost several thousands of dollars.

"Exotics are a secret luxury. It's an insider club," she says. "If you understand skins and know what you're buying, you don't have to show off. If you have a brown, beaten-up piece of luggage that happens to be croc, an innocent bystander wouldn't know it, but you would — and your friends might."

Some of the most exotic exotics she's worked with include tegus lizards, stingrays, tree snakes and frogs, which, she explains, are so small they're used for small pieces and even then they need to be pieced together. "They are pretty inconvenient," she says.

Matheson says there isn't a single customer for the look because there is so much variety: suitcases, evening bags, belts and shoes. You can have any color of the rainbow, turn them metallic, paint them or bleach them so there are no natural markings, just the texture.

So far the only thing she hasn't figured out how to do is get crystals to adhere to the bumpy surface.

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