For years, python has reigned as the snake with all the charm in the accessories world.
It’s been a selling point synonymous with luxury, much the same way that fox and mink are for furriers. But in recent seasons, other lesser-known snakes have been appearing on credit sheets for high-end labels such as Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Pierre Hardy and Narciso Rodriguez. They’re crafting their most fanciful wares from water snake—as well as Whipsnake, Ayers and Elaphe, the latter belonging to the rat-snake family.
One such theory for this proliferation of python alternatives is a law that bans the sales of the skin in California, which has been on the books in that state since 1970. While designers note that Whipsnake and water snake don’t have the same seductive come-hither hiss as python, they say it’s just as pretty, and even more pliable. Rodriguez, who used Whipsnake to launch his first shoe collection for fall, says that snakeskin other than python has “opened up the availability of the shoes,” alluding to the California market, but says that his decision to use Whipsnake is “purely aesthetic. There are so many beautiful techniques and treatments and laminates that are possible.”
Likewise, Hardy, who has been designing with water snake, in addition to python, for the past five seasons, likes it for its pattern and texture. “It has to be quite strong for a shoe,” he says. “But it’s also very soft and thin, so when it’s on the shoe, it’s very flat and the design remains sharp and sleek.” As Hardy sees it, in many ways water snake is actually preferable to python: “The scale of python is big. It can be a little bit too big for the shoe.”
From Left: Fendi’s Elaphe snakeskin and canvas bag.; Narciso Rodriguez’s whip snake wedge; Valentino’s water-snake bag; Salvatore Ferragamo’s studded Hayers snakeskin sandal.; Pierre Hardy’s water-snake kitten heel; Derek Lam’s sea-snake heel; Nina Ricci’s water-snake bag.