Leopard print is a staple. Timeless and ageless. The pinnacle of class and the epitome of crass. Harper’s Bazaar likens the effect of leopard print to that of a red lip. It is bold, and yet functions as a neutral. Women often describe feeling uninhibited in the print. The wearer becomes the beast; they are sleek, on the prowl. Leo may be king of the jungle, but of all animal prints, leopard reigns supreme.
First, let’s clarify. “Cheetah” and “leopard” are used interchangeably when describing this pattern. Leopard hide is spotted with amoeba shaped rings, nearly identical to a jaguar, save for the jag’s additional dots inside the outlines. Cheetah, however is mored dotted, with small, complete circles covering its fur.
The signature spotted dress your vivacious Aunt Marilyn wore to the family reunion has come a long way from the skins our ancient ancestors enshrouded themselves with as a means of basic survival. It held a long history among aristocracy in Africa, continuing into Europe, definitive of wealth, power, and virility. Relevant throughout the 20th century, leopard print catches fire mid century, evolving into the mainstream. It began with rebellious flappers and Old Hollywood starlets. Post-War, Christian Dior popularized leopard in the print form with his New Look. The 50’s saw well-to-do housewives and pin-up bombshells interpret the classic print in innovative ways. Similarly, leopard print in the 60’s contrasted between Jackie O. chic and youthquake chaotic. During the gender-bending, rock and roll age of the 70’s, the counterculture officially claimed for itself the iconic print steeped in patriarchal history. From there, leopard became democratized. Heavily beloved in the 90’s by minimalists, grungy twenty-somethings, and teeny boppers. Hell, the Spice Girls alone serve as a glossary for leopard print! Posh’s “little Gucci dress” vastly different from Scary’s matching bra top ensembles, or Ginger’s ultra-femme bodysuits. Photographer Émilie Régnier’s latest exhibit, “From Mobutu to Beyoncé,” portrays leopard print in its many forms, from primitive, to decadent, and everything in between.