Style Watch

updated 11/27/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/27/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

DEFT LEOPARD

In the jungle, cats use spots for camouflage; in Hollywood, actresses dress like cats to be spotted. Go figure. Nonetheless, black-and-tan leopard prints—on everything from handbags to skintight satin dresses—have celebs including Demi Moore, Drew Barrymore and Ellen Barkin embracing a look made famous on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. "Leopard is perfect for the '90s punk ingenue," says designer Pamela Barish, whose feline styles have been spotted on Laura Dern, Rosanna Arquette and Melissa Etheridge. "It rides the fine line between chic and trashy."

Though only faux will do these days, real pelts were once a Hollywood staple. Peaking in popularity during the '30s and '40s, they were favored by Gloria Swanson, whose leopard-laden Sunset Boulevard costumes were much like those in her own wardrobe. "The whole trend is a return to the glamor days," says Patty Fox, author of Star Style, a book about screen legends of the past. "But while it was real fur back then, people now appreciate the beauty of the print."

The attraction, fans say, is the pattern's come-hither quality. "The lure is powerful and sensual," says author Jackie Collins, who has leopard-print accents throughout her Beverly Hills house. And though designer Zang Toi, whose spotted styles have draped Fran Drescher, calls the look "sexy and elegant," Barish is more blunt. "It's so bad, it's good," she says. "Leopard-wear almost seems to purr on its own."

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