The current vogue for animal-related fashion isn’t all down to Instagram and influencers. Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bear Aloysius, featured in Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited, suggests animal accessories were a thing decades ago.
Aloysius, in turn, was based on a real life It-bear, Archibald Ormsby-Gore, owned by Waugh’s poet friend, John Betjeman. Betjeman died holding Archie – a classic teddy in smart waistcoat – in 1984.
Fast-forward 35 years and animal accessories are a thing again – although admittedly in less highbrow company. They feature as handbags (Loewe has both a bunny and an elephant available, while Moschino has produced a bear bag) and appliqués on sweatshirts (Kenzo’s tiger is a classic). Gucci – always a brand to take things to the max – has a pair of jeans in its recent men’s collection covered in an explosion of stuffed animals worthy of a child’s bedroom. Its most recent advertising campaign, meanwhile, stars several piglets.
Animal magic in fashion is often dismissed as silliness, but including plushies in your wardrobe has twin benefits. Mega-lols is one of them. Walking around with Walking around with a Cath Kidston bag shaped like a bird is much more interesting than doing so with a canvas tote – and will almost certainly garner attention both online and in real life (note: this is not a trend to buy into if you’re bashful). It also, of course, provides a sort of security blanket. We may be grown-ups but sometimes the world is a scary place. There’s nothing like a jumper with a bunny (including tail) on it to provide reassurance.
Edward Crutchley, who showed a very serious collection at London Fashion Week Men’s this month, brought a surprise in his finale. Several models wore novelty animal slippers. “We wanted some light relief,” says the designer. “The collection was more mature and serious, so this gave an element of irreverence at the end.” He sees the slippers as a mood-raiser. “They have had the most positive reaction of anything we’ve ever made,” says Crutchley. “Everyone loves them and they always raise a smile.”
Fashion has undoubtedly cheered up in the last five years. As minimalism has faded, our confidence with statement pieces and pop-art-worthy prints has grown. These come with animal magic this season too, says matchesfashion.com’s buying director, Natalie Kingham. “The reinvented, reworked Jaws T-shirts at Calvin Klein 205W39NYC and Christopher Kane’s colourful horsepower pieces will make great bold summer essentials,” she says.
Then, of course, there’s the seemingly unstoppable rise of animal print. This season, it is going beyond the leopard – now so commonplace in fashion that some call it a neutral – to tiger, cow and even giraffe. Kingham says it’s about different ways of styling it: “All variations go this season – whether tailored with neutrals or block colours or teamed together for ultimate impact.”
Sales of animal print grew 233% at Asos last year, and design director Vanessa Spence is expecting more. “We continue to love animal print for spring, in every colour, style and print,” she says. “We love coloured prints in neons and bright colour clashes.”
So what if you are sometimes reminded of the brightly coloured faux fur found in Build-A-Bear? Think of it as way to dress like a cuddly toy, rather than – like Sebastian, all those years ago – carry one around.