Tropical prints arrive in 'native dressing'

African cultures and island flora and fauna, jungle prints, and camouflage patterns have all been grouped together into a big summer fashion category. It is known as "native dressing" -- a catchall tag that takes in forms of peasantry as well as the kind of clothes that might require a solar toupee, not to mention others redolent of tropical prints or of the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom.

The two most visible aspects are animal and camouflage prints, the latter combined with khaki or chino cotton is safari styles. Jumpsuits, shorts, shirts , skirts, and long pants have been equipped with drawstrings or button tabs with which to roll up sleeves or pantlegs, in case of need.

These new adaptations of gear for life in the bush are revisions of the so-called survival clothes popular a few years ago. Their practical touches -- epaulets with which to anchor camera straps or shoulder bags, and deep bellows pockets to hold film and other paraphernalia -- are handy in the under-brush anywhere, be it city or country.

The call of the wild also resounds in fabric designs featuring ferocious beasts -- spotted cats , lions, tigers, zebras, et alia, some which peer out from a maze of vegetation like the animals in a Rousseau painting.

Animal prints have been lurking about in fashion. Young French women, whose mothers owned leopard print silk raincoats in the 1950s, took animal patterns to their hearts several seasons ago.

But it is perhaps the intarsia beasts recently done in sweaters by Krizia of Milan that brought on the current stampede. Blouses and T-shirts featuring a Krizia-like animal figure winding around the bodice are now all over the place. So are plastic pins, bracelets, and earrings depicting exotic animals.

Kenya and the Ivory Coast have also contributed a wealth of ideas. Themes of the Maasai have been picked up by various designers -- Bill Haire for one -- and interpreted in striking embroideries and hand-paintings as well as handsome cotton prints.

Tropical flowers and vegetation cover any number of sarong-like dresses and tunics worn over skinny pants. The Caribbean and Central and South America are among the locales that inspired indigenous looks featuring halter or bandeau tops with ruffled dancey skirts or wide pants in splashy leafy patterns. The geographical coverage takes in provincial prints like those of the south of France, too, so there is more than one way of going native.

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