The prehistoric runway
We know that dogs have been man's best friend since the beginning of time, but how about being our source of fashion? Before people were style conscious, woolly mammoths and other similar animals were the garments of choice. We're talking about primeval times when cavemen wore the hides of wild animals to cover their bodies and protect them from the elements.
This practice is still done today in certain cultures and environments where natural animal skins simply do the best job. Even the thickest puffer jacket would be no match for the Alaskan climate. In other places though, clothing has shed a new skin by significantly branching away from its core utility functions and encompassing a new focus: creative expression.
No human has the same stripes
Humans strive every single day to be unique from everybody else, and one way that we do this is through the clothes we wear. Think of your own wardrobe. What prints immediately come to mind? What do they represent to you? Maybe tiger print to unleash your wild side. Zebra print is an edgy yet timeless favourite, or perhaps snakeskin if you prefer a luxurious aesthetic. Some designs can even be custom made, featuring lesser-known frog print, parrot patterns or owl silhouettes - all fulfilling our humanistic desire to be portrayed as different and special in comparison to the next person. In fact, wearing unique, and often made-to-order, creature-centric designs exudes exclusivity, attractiveness, and class.
Alexander McQueen flaunts elegant swallow prints for this cosy t-shirt dress while Hermès chose the strong stature of a horse for this gorgeous mosaic scarf. Other iconic designers have used references to animals at prestigious events like Solange's breathtaking Ferragamo python bodysuit at the 2018 MET Gala or Zendaya's spectacular Moschino butterfly dress. But where did it all begin? What sparked the fascination behind animal print and how did it revolutionise fashion whilst evolving into a reoccurring trend?
The roaring twenties
Well, in the 1920s, economic prosperity flourished and global trade rose, along with the appeal for acquiring exotic goods. Everyday people wanted to own tropical fruit, pets, and clothing to boast to neighbours and in turn, improve their social status. There was also an influx of all types of beliefs that flooded in with rising trade, disrupting the status quo and giving birth to unique ideas, which rapidly gained traction.
Designers like Christian Dior released trailblazing collections. A particular one spearheaded by his Parisian consultant Madame Bricard, united differing eras throughout the twentieth century; epitomising the risque aspect of pin-up girls, creating chic statement pieces and embodying the increasingly popular indie movement, all while challenging the boundaries of what women were expected to wear.
Animals have inspired our clothing for thousands of years, and most likely will continue to, especially as fierce styles dominate the runway. As trends come and go, (think neon, double denim and most recently, BBL fashion), almost a century on, the desire and relevance of animal print has been firmly cemented in the hall of fame.
So the next time you are conscious about being seen in the latest apparel, remember where it all started - with our innovative homosapien ancestors. While our hunter-gatherer focus has shifted from blending in the natural environment, the notorious trade-off between comfort and style means fashion is constantly evolving.
Movements often gain momentum the second, or third time around - the current commercialisation of Y2K and 2000s fashion is a great example of this. What was a ‘fashion faux pas’ last year, might be ‘totally in’ this year. As fast fashion holds a firm grip on the industry, there has been no better time to actively go against the grain by cherishing items throughout their entire life cycle, by reworking or donating them if need be.
Shake your tail feather, create your own trend, be brave with patterns, and embrace a style that feels like a second skin to you. Channel whatever emotions and messages you feel like sharing with the world each day and do it unapologetically. With tastes, technology, and consumer expectations changing too, designers must take on increasingly bold decisions and it seems that there is no end to the inspiration that can be taken from the animal kingdom. After all, variations in nature are endless too, and can be celebrated and crafted into our clothing in many beautiful ways.