Leopard print history: From Pharaohs to Beyonce

Written by Marianna Cerini, CNN

Contributors Ananda Pellerin

It is no surprise Netflix’s newest docu-series “Tiger King: Homicide, Mayhem and Insanity” has enthralled viewers world wide. The feud between Joe Unique — the homosexual, gun-toting, mullet-sporting, litigious “Tiger King” of Oklahoma — and his nemesis, Carole Baskin, is a narrative for the ages.

However whereas the 2 have dragged one another by means of the mud — and the courts — it is apparent they’ve rather a lot in frequent. Not solely do they each preserve huge cats, have blond hair and dwell beneath the Mason-Dixon line: Additionally they share a love of cat-themed clothes, and have reminded us all of its energy — together with leopard print.

And they don’t seem to be alone. Leopard print has an extended historical past, one which has hit many vogue highs and lows alongside the best way.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Exotic and one of his cats in the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness."

Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Unique and one in all his cats within the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King: Homicide, Mayhem and Insanity.” Credit score: NETFLIX/Courtesy of NETFLIX

In singer and actress Eartha Kitt’s fingers, leopard print meant energy. In a black and white picture from the 1950s, Kitt is seen dressed head-to-toe within the leopard print. She seems to be defiant and confident, whereas, subsequent to her, a cheetah sits nonchalantly on a leash.

It’s an iconic picture. It is usually one of many photos that, three many years in the past, impressed burlesque dancer Jo Weldon to start out researching the story and legacy of leopard print. Her findings have been introduced collectively within the e book, “Fierce: The Historical past of Leopard Print,” during which Weldon charts the origins, evolution and altering standing of one in all vogue’s most ubiquitous patterns.

“Kitt was a place to begin, as I used to be deeply fascinated by her as a toddler,” Weldon stated in a telephone interview. “She seemed fabulous in her prints — a robust determine. However she was additionally a lady of substance. To me, the spots tied each elements collectively.”

Leopard motifs — and feline imagery normally — have been used to suggest energy, independence and confidence for hundreds of years, based on Weldon.

“Leopards have lengthy been seen as fierce, very resilient animals.” she stated. “I feel folks really feel a primordial reference to them.”

Traditionally, leopards have performed a outstanding function in iconographies world wide. The “Seated Girl of Çatalhöyük,” a clay figurine relationship again to round 6000 B.C., reveals a feminine determine resting her arm on a leopard.

An Egyptian stele shows Nefertiabet, an ancient Egyptian princess wearing a leopard gown.

An Egyptian stele reveals Nefertiabet, an historic Egyptian princess sporting a leopard robe. Credit score: Courtesy Everett Assortment

Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of knowledge, is commonly pictured sporting a leopard or cheetah conceal. And goddess Xi Wangmu, referred to as the Queen Mom of the West in Chinese language mythology, is depicted with the tooth of a tiger and the tail of a leopard.

“Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, leopard fur and garments got here to suggest wealth and standing,” Weldon stated. “Then you definately enter the 20th century and the beginning of mass-produced materials and clothes. The print entered the mainstream, and started having fashionable significance.”

An evolving development

Leopard print’s popularity has gone by means of various iterations since. It has been deemed low-brow, provocative, cheesy and harmful. It has been worn by starlets and related to low cost clothes. In popular culture, from motion pictures to music, leopard-clad ladies have been recognized as imply, shallow and free, which Weldon factors out by means of a sequence of chapters titled “The Trophy Spouse,” “The Unhealthy Mom” and “The Femme Fatale.”

Jo Weldon wears a leopard dress for a promotional shoot in 2015.

Jo Weldon wears a leopard gown for a promotional shoot in 2015. Credit score: Bettina Might

But, the motif has additionally been embraced by the higher echelons of vogue. Christian Dior is credited as the primary designer to place leopard print — reasonably than fur — on the runway in 1947. Model icons like Josephine Baker, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and Edie Sedgwick all wore the sample.

In latest many years, Beyoncé has publicly sported leopard print, as have Anna Wintour and Michelle Obama. And, season after season, vogue magazines hail “the return of leopard” on designer catwalks, from Balmain to Armani, Cavalli to Givenchy.

Beyonce, wearing a leopard dress, performs for ABC Good Morning in Times Square, New York in 2006.

Beyonce, sporting a leopard gown, performs for ABC Good Morning in Instances Sq., New York in 2006. Credit score: Courtesy Everett Assortment

“Leopard print has swayed in so many alternative instructions as a result of it is open to interpretations,” Weldon stated. “It may be seen as a ‘impartial,’ that appears nice subsequent to bolder colours, however it could actually additionally completely stand out by itself.”

“Our appreciation of it additionally goes again to our relationship with the animal: We admire it and worry it, we adore it but we all know it is harmful. Felines evoke nocturnal actions and playfulness. All of that goes into the print and, by affiliation, to the lady who wears it.”

Escorted by President Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy departs for a trip to India and Pakistan wearing an Oleg Cassini leopard skin coat in 1962.

Escorted by President Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy departs for a visit to India and Pakistan sporting an Oleg Cassini leopard pores and skin coat in 1962. Credit score: Courtesy Everett Assortment

These dichotomies could clarify leopard print’s endurance within the public creativeness, in addition to its ongoing reputation amongst numerous segments of customers. Weldon believes the ever-evolving development is, in the present day, as related as ever.

“In all its kinds — refined, luxe, rebellious, horny — (the) leopard print makes an announcement. It could possibly’t be ignored, whether or not you prefer it or detest it. That is why it is nonetheless so outstanding in mainstream tradition.

“At a time when ladies are being pulled in numerous instructions, and try to outline and affirm what it means to be a robust girl, the sample feels related. It says ‘I wish to be seen.'”

“Fierce: The Historical past of Leopard Print,” revealed by HarperCollins, is out there now.

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