Fierce and fem­i­nine, a lit­tle leop­ard goes a long way, says Phoebe Watt

Fashion Quarterly - - Contents -

Wear your leop­ard with pride

KThe link be­tween leop­ard and peo­ple who don’t take other peo­ple’s shit can be traced back to an­cient Egypt

ath Day-Knight, Ch­eryl West, the mum in Matilda, Mel B dur­ing the Spice Girls’ prime… You wouldn’t ex­pect a fash­ion week front-rower to take style in­spo from this cast of char­ac­ters. Nev­er­the­less, one print — beloved by all four — that’s dom­i­nated this year’s street style gal­leries would sug­gest that our favourite blog­gers and ed­i­tors have been bing­ing a lit­tle too hard on Kath & Kim and

Out­ra­geous For­tune re­peats. Yes, leop­ard is ev­ery­where. And not just in the muted shades ap­proved by the power-dress­ing for­mer pres­i­dent and cre­ative di­rec­tor of J Crew, Jenna Lyons, whose opin­ion that “leop­ard is a neu­tral” ef­fec­tively gave a gen­er­a­tion of cor­po­rate women per­mis­sion to prowl around the of­fice.

The new wave of leop­ard is loud. It roared onto the run­way (or should that be cat­walk?) at Tom Ford at the be­gin­ning of 2018. In shades of neon yel­low, lime green, ul­tra vi­o­let and, as one re­viewer wrote, “Trump-skin orange”, the pal­ette was un­apolo­getic, as was the mes­sage em­bla­zoned on purses whose ro­bust shapes and be­daz­zled ex­te­ri­ors could have in­flicted con­sid­er­able dam­age if used to smack a cer­tain pres­i­dent about the mouth. Talk about the hunter be­com­ing the hunted.

The link be­tween leop­ard and peo­ple who don’t take other peo­ple’s shit can be traced back to an­cient Egypt, when Egyp­tian pharaohs wore ac­tual an­i­mal pelts as they un­leashed ter­ror on the masses. Since then, from roy­als to rock stars, it’s been a uni­ver­sal sym­bol of power and sta­tus.

So when did mere mor­tals start to get amongst? Chris­tian Dior was largely re­spon­si­ble for ini­ti­at­ing it into main­stream fash­ion, his first col­lec­tion in 1947 re­brand­ing it from ghoul­ish and gar­ish to gown-ap­pro­pri­ate, (not to men­tion, a great ac­cent for a cuff). The as­so­ci­a­tion with power was still there. Dior’s sis­ter Cather­ine — muse for the Miss Dior fra­grance and its leop­ard-cen­tric print ad­ver­tis­ing — was a

mem­ber of the Pol­ish in­tel­li­gence unit dur­ing WWII and a con­cen­tra­tion camp sur­vivor. The power was fem­i­nised, how­ever, and ac­ces­si­ble.

Per­haps too ac­ces­si­ble. To­wards the end of the 20th cen­tury and at the be­gin­ning of the new mil­len­nium, thanks to the cos­tume de­sign­ers at ma­jor Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion stu­dios and tele­vi­sion net­works, leop­ard be­came grad­u­ally less syn­ony­mous with fe­male strength and sta­tus and more syn­ony­mous with sex work­ers, bo­gans and the most vul­gar class of all, the nou­veau riche (Real Housewives of Bev­erly Hills, I’m look­ing at you).

The likes of An­thony Vac­carello (Saint Lau­rent), Ric­cardo Tisci (Burberry), and Vic­to­ria Beck­ham have for­tu­nately pro­pelled us into a bet­ter place. From their re­cent col­lec­tions we’ve learned that a leop­ard print dress, skirt or long-line coat, well-cut from lux­u­ri­ous fab­ric and left to speak for it­self, holds more taste points than a bustier paired with a denim mini and kit­ten-heeled jan­dals. And out­side the shows, fash­ion’s elite have fur­ther demon­strated the high/low strat­egy es­sen­tial to pulling off this print. Keep your leop­ard bustier, they say, but add a tai­lored trouser and blazer combo, ex­pen­sive shoes, gold state­ment jew­ellery and im­pec­ca­ble hair and makeup. As one staff writer for now-de­funct on­line fash­ion publi­ca­tion Racked put it: “Just be­cause you are now al­lowed to wear leop­ard print to PTA meet­ings with­out some­one shov­ing a breathal­yser in your face at the door, it still takes fi­nesse to wear well.”

Some might ar­gue that it also takes ques­tion­able ethics. To­day, any brand with half a brain is adopt­ing an anti-fur stance. Many an­i­mal ac­tivists be­lieve that even faux-fur per­pet­u­ates the idea that it’s ac­cept­able to wear the skin of an­other sen­tient be­ing for style. Is an­i­mal print any bet­ter? Could a ny­lon leop­ard print bikini be the fash­ion equiv­a­lent of fake meat — di­vid­ing con­sumers on the grounds of hypocrisy? On this point we are will­ing to be led by ve­gan de­signer Stella McCart­ney, whose lat­est pre-fall col­lec­tion fea­tured leop­ard in spades. If it’s okay with her, then it’s okay with us.

And it is seem­ingly okay with us. In 2017, a study con­ducted by Unilever found that for 33% of con­sumers, pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions are guided by a brand’s ethics. Based on the print’s pop­u­lar­ity (a spot­ted midi-dress by Alice Tem­per­ley is re­tailer John Lewis’ most sold item of the year to date), leop­ard and, in fact, all things an­i­mal-in­spired are ap­par­ently get­ting a free pass. It’s not just the one big cat that’s cap­tur­ing our at­ten­tion, af­ter all. Yes, tiger stripes are set to be the next big thing, and if there’s a fash­ion en­thu­si­ast this trend evo­lu­tion was made for, it’s Rich­mond Tigers su­per-fan, Kath Day-Knight.

There’s an any­thing goes vibe around the mod­ern use of an­i­mal print. Here a leop­ard coat by Valentino is paired with jeans and slides.

A Chris­tian Dior full-skirted coat from 1947with leop­ard skin cuffs and a match­ing leop­ard skinpill­box hat.

Dior gave women prow­ess and power with this evening gown from 1953.

EYE OF THE TIGER Add some meow-fac­tor to your look with a pair of stripy sun­nies. Le Specs x Adam Sel­man sun­glasses, $157, from Net-a-Porter

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