Fashion's most powerful print; the leopard. Worn by pharaohs, royalty, movie starts, models and celebrities, this print has remained a timeless wardrobe classic that has continued to rock the fashion industry throughout the eras.
Yet, the status and opinions upon leopard-printed garments and accessories have continued to fluctuate and change throughout the years. It has been regarded as sophisticated, up-market and trendy all the way down to cliché, cheap and trashy. So, where does leopard print stand in the 21st century, and how did we get there?
Leopard print and its early beginnings
Animal print's existence dates back further than you would ever believe. It is not just restricted to the 19th and 20th century like you would expect. Instead, it has been spotted throughout multiple different centuries spanning across the whole entire globe.
From the stone age cavemen who are known globally for their association with animal skin garments, all the way to Egyptian history, which has displayed the popularity of leopard print within stelaes. For example Nefertiabet, an ancient Egyptian princess can be seen wearing a leopard gown. Similarly, the Egyptian goddess of wisdom, Seshat, is frequently shown wearing a leopard or cheetah skin.
And since then, ownership of animal print had continued to be a symbol of status, wealth, and power used by kings, queens and the rich all over the world. And historically hunters also often believed that poaching animals for their prints gave them the power of that animal, which I imagine was a pretty alluring concept.
Although attaining powers from wearing animal print is now seen as barbaric by many, and simply untrue. Nonetheless, the popularity and demand from leopard print lovers have certainly not halted in recent years.
The printed trend, a timeline 1930-1990
So, how did the leopard print trend really develop into what we have come to know today?
1930s After the release of the movie Tarzan and The Ape Man in 1932, the animal print trend started to pick up momentum after the male and female lead was seen styling such prints. Suddenly, the printed trend was reborn. Clothing manufacturers and designers started to incorporate animal print in their products from scarves and blouses, to coats and jackets.
1940s Leopard print in particular started to shift its way into the high end fashion industry at this point. Making its debut in Christian Dior's 'New Look' collection in 1947.
1960s Here, the printed movement really started to progress, thanks to the First Lady Jackie Kennedy who famously styled a real leopard pelt fur coat. Similarly, 1960s film also heightened the popularity of leopard print with films such as The Graduate, which introduced us to the infamous character Mrs Robinson, who paired a long leopard print coat with matching underwear, making leopard print the sex symbol of the era.
1970s In this era, punk rock had adopted the animal print look. Rebellious music and eye-catching prints were the obsession, channelling a new dangerous, chic and sexy association with animal prints.
1990s In the '90s animal print was propelled onto the catwalk due to models such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. This was also the first time that animal print had made its way into the working class wardrobe. It was no longer restricted to upper class women and became more affordable and accessible to all. Yet, this shift did not come without its negative connotations. For the first time since the introduction of the trend, animal print was associated with being 'trashy' and 'tacky', and not quite as glamorous as its previous decades.
Leopard print in the 21st century
Christian Dior once wrote “If you are fair and sweet don’t wear it” in regards to styling leopard print. Yet, this is an obvious outdated outlook, we're now living in the 21st century in which diversity in fashion is celebrated. As a result, these prints are no longer associated with a specific kind of woman. Instead, it can now be worn by anyone at any time and at any occasion, regardless of your looks, sex, age, and social status like in previous decades.
You can now see these prints almost anywhere, from the runway, and the red carpet to EastEnders and Love Island. Its popularity is truly widespread and influencers, celebrities, and even the royals are now embracing and flaunting their wild side. Celebs such as Kim Kardashian, JLO, Beyoncé and Kate Middleton, have all been papped wearing designer animal prints and unlike previous eras, even the opposite gender are now hopping on the trend with Harry Styles and Kanye West seen sporting leopard printed jackets.
Yet, the print is now readily available to the wider majority too; those who are not so rich and famous. Affordable fashion brands such as Missguided, Topshop, and H&M, provide the prints we have come to admire at a pretty price tag, that definitely won't break the bank!
The fashion industry and its unethical history
To really understand animal print and its evolution within the fashion industry, it's important to acknowledge its troubling history. Although wearing animal print can be empowering and beautiful, this should not be at the expense of our wildlife.
Before faux fur trumped the fashion industry as a more ethical alternative, historically animal 'print' was actually animal skin. In 1986 alone, around 9,556 leopard skins were imported into the United States, and it took around eight leopards to make just one coat.
This increase in demand of exotic animal skins in the fashion industry due to our human obsession with the prints worried conservationists about the future of the species, and rightly so. Between the 1950s to today, the population of Amur leopards has seen a decrease of nearly 98%. According to the WWF, there are less than just 100 Amur leopards left in the wild. Unfortunately, fashion is accountable for much of this, and it's important to consider when admiring the progression of fashion's most powerful print.