Look Out, Pebbles: Fashion Goes Cavegirl Chic

Wilma Flintstone could be making her biggest comeback since a chewable vitamin was modeled after her.

In fact, fashion followers might consider accessorizing their summer frocks with bone barrettes and chicken drumstick clutches to be in with the hippest crowd.

The fall collections of mega-designers from Alexander McQueen to Donna Karan — plus those of smaller boutiques from Bebe to XOXO — will appeal to the animal in all of us with various interpretations of Cavegirl Chic.

"You're a hunter/gatherer," said Gina Pia Cooper, editor-in-chief of the online style magazine fashionfinds.com. "You take whatever you find and you incorporate it into your clothing as a design element."

Skirts and dresses with ragged hemlines or unfinished-looking necklines — some with sling-style bodices leaving one shoulder bare — are tearing into shop-window displays. Garments with swatches of torn cloth are taunting the tidy, symmetrical set. The wrap-around trend has re-emerged. And tawny, natural fabrics such as fur, leather and suede are all the rage.

"Looking raw and primitive is the key to this," says Kimberly Bonnell, a writer for InStyle magazine. "It's very Flintstones. It looks like you picked up a skin and put it around your body in cavegirl fashion."

Style gurus say the phenomenon represents something of a revolution against the prim, tailored look that has reigned for years.

"Clothes have been so slick and neat for so long," said Bill Rancitelli, a freelance clothing designer in New York and a professor at the Parsons School of Design. "This is a reaction to that, very anti-establishment."

While Fred, Wilma, Pebbles and Bamm Bamm seem an obvious inspiration for the trend, the more recent popularity of TV shows like Survivor, music videos like that for Destiny Child’s hit of the same name and films such as Castaway and Gladiator have contributed to savage being en vogue.

Traces of wild, elemental themes have permeated American fashion since at least the late 1990s — and the "deconstructionist" trend stormed the scene as early as the 1980s. The difference is that new collections are following Wilma Flintstone's lead: Accessorizing the rough, animal-skin cavewear with luxe items such as lace and pearls.

"We were wearing pearls and being very conservative; now we're seeing Destiny's Child kick off the Survivor gear," said Alex Douglass, associate fashion editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. "And then for Fall 2001, we're seeing (designers like) Dolce & Gabbana mixing the two. It's taken on a life of its own."

Donna Karan calls her soon-to-be-unveiled fall collection "Bohemian Luxe," and blends tribal raw with urban sleek.

"Each elemental piece tells its own story," writes Karan in her press release on the upcoming line. "Savaged skins give it a new, raw sensuality…designed for the modern, urban warrior."

Some fashion industry experts say the look is appropriate for the Y2K era.

"I started seeing it right before the Millennium," Cooper said. "It's a sign of going all the way back, some sort of inclination or subconscious desire to incorporate a primitive element into fashion."

Plus, the minimalist look is practical — particularly now, when the country is steeped in lean economic times.

"It has to do with the recession," Douglass said. "If you don't have enough money to buy something, you can do it yourself. It's being more independent, and creating your own style because of a need."

But Bonnell, who authored the book What to Wear, warns against overdoing it, saying less is more when it comes to Cavegirl Chic.

"I'd wear one piece at a time, a skirt or a top or a coat," she said. "If you go overboard, you're going to look pretty jerky. But one piece at a time has a lot of sex appeal. It's different, and it's fun."

Rancitelli said he could see a "watered-down" version of the look — which is now seen mostly in haute couture fashion, the music industry and Hollywood — going mainstream, and thinks it would be perfect for a night of clubbing.

"I don't see people wrapping torn fabric around themselves," he said. "They'll do touches of this, or wear one part of a garment that way. Nothing overly faddish. That's the way people will buy it."

Fashionistas predict the trend will become popular simply because of the liberating thrill that comes with feeling wild and primitive.

"The impulse to look raw is obviously very sexy," Bonnell said. "That's the main appeal."