Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Confessions of a Leopard Lover

I don't recall leopard print ever really being out of fashion. Regardless of whether it's "in" or "out", at some point every year the high street turns safari with animalistic clobber. Good news for my taste, bad news for my wallet. I observe up and coming trends but I'm highly selective with what I embrace. If there's a trend that I find awfully hideous or dull then I just ignore it, there's no obligation to follow it. In the sound words of Quentin Crisp, 'Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are'. Influences on my style tend to come from cinema and music, not the catwalk, as you will see.

My earliest memory of leopard print was watching the camptastic feature Batman (1966), which my parents bought on VHS when I was barely in primary school. In an attempt to lure Batman into a trap, Lee Meriwether's Catwoman poses as seductive Russian Miss Kitka. When we first see Catwoman as Miss Kitka, she emerges from a crowd of dark suited reporters and photographers wearing a long leopard print trench coat and matching Russian-inspired tall hat. In an instant, the outfit suggests the wearer's exoticness and other worldliness while at the same time it's a too damn obvious connection with cats. It's elegant and at the same time kitsch. My first memory of leopard print was an image you may associate with retro camp, as animal print tends to be, but it was not typically so in that it appeared more refined than a busty 50s pin-up in a bikini or Bet Lynch pulling pints.

 From my childhood onwards leopard has always lurked in my wardrobe in one guise or another. It started with a fake leopard fur hooded coat that my grandmother made for me. As a teenager, leopard print as a conscious taste kicked off with a grey leopard vest which I accessorised with pink plastic Disney jewellery (I was Kawaii and didn't know it!). When I graduated from university I teamed up my gown and mortar board hat with leopard court shoes. Even on soberly dressed days, you can be sure that there's a wild cat of a bra and thong set waiting to be unleashed from hiding. My most recent purchase is a What Katie Did Tiger corset which combines leopard with tiger patterns and contains gold thread. A masterpiece.The moment I spotted the Tiger corset online I could hear the Sirens call. Curiously, I go through phases with colours and most patterns yet leopard always stood its ground. For a pattern that at times is referred to as daring or brave that is some comfort zone!

As a burlesque artist, leopard has always played a major part in my garments from my debut performance of bumping, grinding and snarling to my turn as Scary Spice in a very rude tribute to a certain 90s girl group. Leopard is an extension of the fierceness that I portray. Of course leopard print representing the wearer's ferocity is a cliché. It's the same as a woman in a red dress representing sexiness (Jessica Rabbit and Michelle Pfeiffer on a piano in The Fabulous Baker Boys are just a couple of iconic examples) is a cliché. But what I represent onstage are cartoonish fantasies, not social realism (although the work of Ken Loach adapted for a cabaret show could be interesting)

The beauty of leopard is that for a usually beige/brown background with black irregular spots, it's wonderfully versatile. It's retro, punk, modern, post-modern, tribal and so forth. You could be trashy like Jayne Mansfield or subversive like Debbie Harry. Cheap and cheerful or luxurious and decadent. Ultimately, this is why my love affair with leopard has endured for so long and I'm sure the same goes for many others regardless of trends and fads. Purrrr!


  1. Animal print and faux fur has a special sort of appeal, doesn't it? I didn't believe Caitlin Moran's claim that leopard was a neutral until I bought a pair of leopard print flats and realised how versatile they were. It can be classy or trashy... or both! It's great for adding a touch of glamour to any outfit. This is still my favourite Stop Staring dress - http://rebeccamcwattie.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/blondiedressblackstopstaring1.jpg

    1. That's my favourite Stop Staring dress too! They also produced it in red which was extra lovely.
      p.s Never underestimate the all-seeing all-knowing Ms Moran!