Does a leopard ever change its spots? In the fashion world…definitely not! This print has been around since the 50s but it can be traced back to our ancestors thousands of years ago. They used the skin of animals to get them through the colder months. This print is a mainstay of the fashion merry go round and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. We’d argue it’s a cornerstone of our wardrobe, as classic as black and white, however – it definitely has moments of glory. This season leopard print is looking as strong as ever with influencers and street stylers championing the print all over their social media feeds.
Elizabeth Taylor (all kinds of goals), was one of the first fashionistas to wear the infamous print but even before our Liz donned it, leopard had made a MASSIVE journey. Historically the animal was skinned, and the fur worn by us humans, first for survival and then to show wealth and status. It didn’t hit mainstream fashion until Dior showcased it as part of his new collection in the 40s, not as a fur, but a print which was seen on all his accessories. Then, during the 50s it was made sexual by incorporating the print into underwear and lingerie. Evoking animal instincts, this caught on quickly and set the trend for the decades that followed.
With the 60s came the high street emergence of the big cat print. Style icon Jackie Kennedy wore an Oleg Cassini, leopard coat in 1962 and sparked a mass demand for real skin but this became a bittersweet moment as it upped the demand for real leopard skin, something that Jackie Kennedy felt infinitely guilty about. Seductress Mrs Robinson set hearts racing in Leopard print undies with a coordinated coat (another tick in the sexy box) in The Graduate, 1967. And, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde featured the track Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, a very vogue accessory when the album was released in 1966. What’s New Pussycat? EVERYONE loves leopard print.
Some good news for the big cats, in the USA the importation and sale of real leopard skin was banned as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 came into play, phew! Now it was all about print, and the introduction of the punk era give the print new impetus. It was adopted as the uniform of the rebellious, Iggy Pop, Sid Vicious and Poison Ivy of The Cramps were all protagonists of the print’s wild status. And, blending pin-up status with rock ‘n’ roll edge, Blondie is the poster girl for the print as we reach the end of the decade.
More money, more power, more everything please! By the 80s, excess was everything and people were head to toe in animal print. Either you dressed in celebration of money and power with bold and glamorous pieces, or, dressed against both in hard-core punk style. Both looks were the perfect canvas for leopard, ticking the boxes for excess and rebellion like no other print. During this maxi movement, Coronation Street’s Bet Lynch was in the clutches of her leopard print addiction, perhaps one of history’s most prolific leopard devotees.
The 90s welcomed a ‘come as you are’ vibe, things got a lot more relaxed and leopard was now welcome in any subculture or trend. On the catwalks the print was given a high fashion elevation by ‘the supers’ and Azzedine Alïa’s fall collection. On the other end of the spectrum, god of grunge Kurt Cobain famously teamed a coat in the power print with his thrifted tee. And, Mel B kept up the prints anarchic status, making it the uniform of her alter-ego Scary Spice.