10 short stories about Fashion 1/10 Leopard by Franca Sozzani
Los Angeles 1925
Martin Dutkovitch 1951
Paolo Barbieri 1967
Hans Feurer 1978
Francois Lamy 1982
Michael Roberts 1991
Michel Comte 1996
Steven Meisel 1999
Leopard printed on fabric, leather, on pony skin, is definitely one of the most enduring trends over the recent years, one that gets reinterpreted and presented on the runways of many designers and in accessories collections.
A leopard, the real thing, was flaunted by the American actress Marian Nixon in 1925. She would take a real live leopard for walks on a leash. Some years later, circa 1930, in the Paris atelier belonging to Barone Christoff von Drecoll, directed by Meussieur Besancon de Wagner (the father of Maggie Rouff, one of fashion's great creators), a golden silk outfit was created, which closed at the ankles like odelisque trousers and were matched with a leopardskin jacket.
Jeanne Paquin, another great tailor from the '20sand '30s, used a lot of fur in her collections and when she created a leopard coat, she created quite a reaction. In the '40s the Callot Sistes made a day dress with a large leopard collar and fur inlay lining in the pockets.
But it was the 1947 spring-summer collection by Christian Dior that first usedleopard as a print and not fur, for a day dress called Jungle and an evening gown called Afrique. Dior also often used leopard fur for large cuffs on velvet evening coats, for hats or outerwear. Already in the 1950's, Roger Viveierproduced a leopard-like print on satin in shades of bright blue, with matching shoes and bags.
Gilbert Adrian, the MGM costume designer during the '40s-'50s, dressed the greatest actresses of the period and in 1951 created a dress in leopard-print lamé. In the same year, Balmain created a total look in fur: trousers, jacket and ankle boots.
Wearing leopard was synonymous with great sophistication and elegance. And it was like that during the '50s and '60s when film stars like Ursula Andress,Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve wore it. From cloak coats in the '50s, leopard then transformed into tiny double-breasted jackets or little coats in slim, fitted lines in the '60s, sometimes even in faux fourrure.
With the printed fabric, Dior opened up a path that continues to be followed even today. Yves Saint Laurent, who took over from Christian Dior to oversee the fashion house, continued to use to the print and included it in his YSL collection, which became famous for his long chiffons, jackets and unforgettable sequined coat from 1964. For the entire 1980s, Yves Saint Laurent continued both prèt à porter and Haute Couture.
Once again in the '60s Bob Bugnand, (the American designer that was first the chief designer for Jacques Heim and Robert Piquet, before opening his own fashion house in New York, sent his clothes to be embroidered and printed in Paris. His clients included the Duchess of Windsor, Jacqueline Kennedy and Babe Paley), became famous for creations including a high-waisted dress and embroidered with sequins forming a leopard motif.
It was leopard once again that was responsible for the first successesof Roberto Cavalli in the 1970s, as well as Leonard, a designer whose career has spanned over 50 years, and who has always used exclusively printed silk. The brand is still in production today.
It was used in inlay patchwork by Christian Lacroix in the '80s. Mad for leopard print, he also had leopard printed carpeting everywhere. It became a definite trend in knitwear thanks to Azzedine Alaia in 1991, as proven by a famous group photo of supermodels that appeared in Vogue America.
And again, in the early '90s, it was used by Thierry Mugler. It became a signature feature for Dolce & Gabbana starting in 1994. Since their debut, all of their pieces are lined in leopard print. Their stores also have drapes, carpet and wall covering in the same print.
The idea of leopard has totally changed from its original concept. It's become a symbol of sensuality, of sexiness. Bustiers, thigh-high boots, tight pants and jersey T-shirts give another meaning to the print. Leopard makes every item more sensual, just by the print. And it's been used in chiffon, velvet, silk, and any kind of stretch material.
It's been used and abused over the years. Over numerous episodes it's resurfaced in '60s style, ladylike style, or colored in many variants by many designers, whether famous or not. It's been, and continues to be used for accessories like boots, shoes, sandals and bags in the collections of every fashion line of which we know the existence.
Inevitably it runs the risk of being interpreted badly, with cheap fabrics andvulgar shapes and is now often considered cheap o inelegant. In the collective mindset, leopard continues to be considered sexy and not chic.
I totally disagree, because still today, as I've already said in another post, everything depends on how it's worn and by whom. And on the fabric used and the shape it takes.
The strength of leopard lies in the surprise it creates when paired with classic pieces. It breaks the rules of conformism, adding an eccentric touch. But only if it happens with originality and creativity. If that's not the case, it's better to just forget about it entirely.