|Rene Magritte, 'Les Amants', 1928. Oil on Canvas, 21 3/8 x 28 7/8', MOMA.|
Tuesday, 8 July 2014
Currently enjoying a renaissance in the fashion world, leopard has been a prominent fixture in clothing styles for centuries, signifying exoticism, primal sexuality, and power.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries predominately a feminine pattern, the print is unusually distinct from the fragile florals and lacework which align with the Western cultural ideal of the childlike, delicate woman apt to wilt that have otherwise dominated ladies' wardrobes.
|Print by Louis Osse after Sigmund Freudenberger, c. 1776, 'Elegant Interior With Man|
Sitting In Armchair In Front of the Fireplace, with His Wife On His Knees.'
|18th Century Leopard Gown, The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Louis Carrogi Carmontelle, c. 1780, 'Madame de Moracin'|
Leopard fur, that of a ferocious nocturnal predator, seems out of place wrapped around female bodies preceding the modern age where gender roles have progressively broken down to yield to greater equality and a broader idea of femininity. As seen above and below, the bodies I speak of are not purely those of the femme fatales and seductresses who have been looked down upon and excluded from traditional ideas of what a woman should be, but aristocratic and socially distinguished ladies also.
|Jean-Marc Nattier, 1742, Oil on Canvas, Constance-Gabrielle-Magdeleine Bonnier de la Mosson, |
The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Though not generally considered appropriate for men to wear today (as a result of the lingering Regency and Victorian shift into comparatively plain, unadorned clothing in rejection of pre-Revolution male ostentatiousness), leopard pelts or leopard print fabrics were for much of human history an aspect of male couture as well as female. It functioned organically as a symbol of dominance and ferocity in battle, frequently sported by kings and nobility.
|Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1778, 'John Campbell, 1st Lord Cawdor'.|
|Jean-Marc Nattier, 1756, 'Portrait of Jean Victor de Rochechouart, Duc de Mortemart'.|
|Venceslao Verlin, Oil on Canvas, 'An Interior with Elegant Company'|
Occasionally the more daring amongst modern male fashion followers, such as Mr West, tap into this old association with their outfit choices, channelling the leopard’s raptorial strength.
It is perhaps the association with status which caused leopard to infiltrate women’s clothing in a societally accepted fashion – it was never accessible to the poor, either through the fur from the animal itself or through imitation, until modern fabric printing processes increased who could afford to sport it. Unlike open expressions of sexuality and battle-might, it was permissible for woman of appropriate status to indicate her social position through her dress and so leopard print progressively infiltrated the mainstream.
|Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy|
|Queen Elizabeth II|
|Grace, Princess of Monaco|
|Louise Glaum, 1920.|