I have to confess to a profound resistance to anything leopard. This is a result of watching Coronation Street in my formative years and seeing Bet Lynch lavished in the stuff. Her affection for animal print led to my life-long aversion.
Happily, since the days of Ms Lynch, leopard-print and animal-print in general, has moved from the arena of pub landlady to the headier realm of designer runways, with a slew of leading names and major brands rocking leopard, snake, tiger and zebra markings in their autumn/winter 2011 collections.
Stefano Pilati at Yves St Laurent and Hannah MacGibbon at Chloe both featured snake-print in their collections - Pilati crafting a knee-length silk shift with cowl neck (£1,015) and a 70s silk blouse with bell sleeves (£880), and Chloe a ladylike, mid-calf shirt dress in sheer print (£2,880), all at Matches. Unsurprisingly, Dolce & Gabbana, the duo who can never resist a bit of bling, did a stretch silk dress in tiger print whileHenry Holland combined black leather and leopard for a biker jacket with animal print sleeves (£690 at Browns). Marc Jacobs has done a series of disarmingly ladylike dresses, skirts and blouses in leopard- and snake-print in his diffusion, Marc by Marc Jacobs line, at Matches, which also stocks Diane von Furstenberg's leopard- and snake-print dresses and bags.
If you needed further proof that animal print has lost its down-market image, the top cobblers and bag designers all feature animal print shoes, boots and bags for autumn/winter, from leopard loafers and ballerinas at Rupert Sanderson, to zebra courts at Jimmy Choo, leopard kitten heels at Louboutin, and leopard ballerina wedges at Lanvin. There are leopard bags from, among others, Fendi, Nancy Gonzales, Jerome Dreyfuss, Michael Kors, Alexanders Wang and McQueen, and Mulberry with their lush but ruinously pricey leopard Bayswater (£2,000).
On the high street - a big-time adopter of animal print - we love River Island's leopard loafers (£30), Linzi Shoes' black-trim loafers (£18), Pilot's stiletto ankle boot (£25.99), and Peacock's bow court (£25). Also on the high street, Topshop has a leopard print blouse with black collar (£80), that punches way above its price tag, and Miss Selfridge has a good, 70s retro leopard print coat.
For animal minimalists, there are animal print belts at M&S and Banana Republic, and leopard opaques at River Island a £12.
But if you wear any animal print - even if you limit yourself to accessories - the rule is JUST ONE PIECE AT A TIME. No matching leopard bag and shoes, or boots and scarf, or we'll have to send the style police over...