Swinging from the shoulders of bright young things in capitals as far flung as Rio and Shanghai is the latest cult accessory – the Fendi Bag Bug. It is hairy and feathery, has eyes, ears and comes in a myriad of bright, attention-grabbing shades like cobalt blue, emerald green and acid pink. Childish, outlandish and fun, these extraordinary-looking handbags have more in common with funfair toys and Animal, the crazy drummer from The Muppets than with the glossy language of luxury. Yet, Bag Bugs have quickly scooped up cult status and are now being worn by a host of style pin-ups, from Vogue Japan’s Anna dello Russo to Solange Knowles and Brit supermodel, Cara Delevingne, who carry and treasure them like pets.

The Bag Bug collection, retailing from $620 to $700 and made from leather and fox or mink fur, was conceived in Fendi’s famed Rome atelier. The luxury house is not known for folly but is revered for its leathers and furs as well its iconic handbags like the Baguette and the hand-stitched Selleria collection. The Bag Bug is Fendi’s most outlandish and hilarious design to date and seems to fly in the face of conventional luxury design, which veers towards the classic, the timeless and the minimalist.

"The inspiration came when I recently was on a trip to Brazil and saw amazing tropical birds, each with beautifully colourful feathers and plumes," says creative director Silvia Venturini Fendi.

The success of the Bag Bug comes on a wave of animal-influenced design that is gripping fashion right now. Animal motifs (owl shaped backpacks, hoods and hats with ears, onesies with paws and tails) have been a hot seller in the childrenswear market for years but the crossover into the luxury adult market comes as a surprise.  Hair accessories, shoes, ready-to-wear and jewellery are all under the influence of the animal bug.

Heavenly creatures?

Katie Hillier, the London-based accessories designer and newly-appointed creative director of Marc by Marc Jacobs, made animal motifs the signature of her eponymous jewellery line. Silhouetted rabbits, squirrels and hedgehogs hang from her necklaces and adorn her hair clips, with tiny diamonds glistening in the place of eyes. “The animals thing - it is odd isn’t it?” says Hillier. “I originally chose the animal motifs for the jewellery line because I wanted it to have a personality and a character. The collections have featured British wildlife, endangered species and seasonal friends – the most popular being the rabbit, closely followed by the bumblebee and the hedgehog.”

 A keen animal lover herself, thirty-something Hillier owns a mink bunny by Rick Owens and a teddy bear-shaped bag by Happy Ashley.  Her pride and joy is an original, box fresh pair of Marc Jacobs ‘mouse’ shoes which she bought in the late 1990s. The flat ballet shoes with a mouse’s face decorating the toe were a sell-out success.  “I think people just like to smile and animals sure do make you smile – I guess it is fantasy escapism and reconnecting with your youth.”

Animal shoes are also undergoing a renaissance with London-based Charlotte Olympia, spearheading the trend with her Kitty embroidered velvet slippers that are now a bestseller in her collection of whimsical heels, while Marc by Marc Jacobs has issued a sequel to the mouse flat in the shape of owl-embroidered espadrilles.  At Moschino, there are bears decorating ear-phones and floppy-eared rabbits on the back of Samsung Galaxy cases. The trend continues apace for Spring/Summer with fox and cat print tea dresses at Miu Miu and colourful print leather bags adorned with peacocks at Prada.

Social animals

Fashionable animals are also proving a hit in social media. Marc Jacobs’ treasured bull terrier, Neville Jacobs has a dedicated Instagram following of 25,000 with his posts ‘managed’ by Jacobs’ PA Nick Newbold. Here you can see Neville loving life –  lying on an inflatable cushion in a sunny swimming pool, running on windswept beaches, asleep under a white cotton duvet and even peeing in the street wearing a hand knit cable wool dog coat.  You can’t help but ‘like’ the characterful and boisterous Neville who is one a rarefied clutch of fashion animals. Katie Grand, editor-in-chief of Love magazine, posts for her long-eared rabbit called ClaratheRabbit but keeps Clara’s profile private. “She’s a VIR!” says Grand. 

This fascination with animals does have a precedent in fashion. Designers have long been known as animal-loving folk and some over the years have deployed animal motifs in their collections, notably haute couturier Elsa Schiaparelli who collaborated with Salvador Dali asking him to paint his famous lobster on a dress (1937). And whacky Frenchman Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, famously created a coat made of teddy bears for Madonna in the 1980s. Both pieces now exist in permanent museum collections.

Where the fad for animal motifs will go in 2014 is open to debate. “But you don’t want to overdo animal design,” cautions Katie Hillier, “it has to be done with a wink.” And perhaps a purr.

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