Spotted. The history of leopard skin & print.

Bonjour mes amies!

It would be a grave disservice if I did not lead by first noting the common misuse of the term “leopard print.”

The term leopard is more often used to encompass all printed cats. Not solely the leopard.

From the pictures below, I’d like for you to guess, which print is leopard.

Now, to l’historie!

Wearing the skins of leopards or any large cat (not the print) can be dated back to ancient Egypt. Leopard skin pelts were found in the tomb of King Tut.

The wearing of leopard skins (and all other large cats) has always been associated with strength and status.

When the actual skins of these cats were used, only the strong (those physically able to hunt the cat) or those who could afford to pay the exuberant cost for the skins were able to adorn themselves in such luxury.

The evolution of hunting guns made leopard skin more accessible. In the early 20th century, leopards became over hunted and were soon added to the endangered species list. The US then created the Endangered Species Act of 1973 which banned the sale and importation of leopard skins.

It wasn’t until the industrial revolution, that textiles were massed produced. This mass production allowed manufactures to now print patterns that were once hand embroidered, woven, or painted.

The origins of commercial leopard print is a topic of immense debate amongst fashion historians and designers. I can recall these debates in textile class while in University for fashion design. There are Christian Dior advertisements that pictured women in the print during the 1930s. However, Lanvin is said to have used leopard print for silk scarves prior to the Dior ads.

Be that as it may, the print of leopards took the fashion industry by storm in 1947 when Christian Dior debuted his “New Look” collection.

The print of leopards (and other large cats) has truly stood the test of time. For decades the print has fallen in and out of vogue. There was a point in fashion history that the print of leopards were equated with “trashy” lower classed or reckless women.

The print of leopards became associated with rebellious women (for lack of a better term) because of the freedom and power leopards are associated with. It was once believed that a woman who wore the print of leopards were worldly, over sexualized and brash i.e. the exact opposite of what a patriarchal society expected its women to be.

Irrespective of how one personally feels about the print, there is no denying its staying power. Wearing of these skins predates time. It has certainly surpassed the stage of a trend.

Stop reading here if you are against the use of real animal fur.

J’adore leopard print. While controversial, it is no secret that I own and have purchased real fur pieces. I do however make a point to not buy new fur pieces, only vintage (for ethical reasons.)

A few years ago while in a European city (I will not name the city and you’ll see why) I went to an auction house searching for a very specific silk scarf. There were furs as far as the eye could see. In true Jessie fashion, I befriended the curator and gained access to “The Vault.” The vault held items that were too pricey (100,000€ and above) to be placed on the floor, or were being held for museums.

I’d seen my fair share of minks and beavers but NEVER had a seen a leopard SKIN (not print) coat.

I nearly fainted.

I wanted that coat. I knew I’d have to take out a second mortgage but I could careless. I am a vintage clothes collector and that belle needed to be mine. Due to the Endangered Species Act not only was I unable to import the jacket, as an American it was illegal for me to purchase it. Domestically or internationally.

I spent an entire day using free WiFi (typical Jessie, willing to sell an organ for a fur but refusing to pay for WiFi) at cafes contacting lawyers in the US and in the country I was visiting.

It was impossible. There was absolutely no (legal) way of obtaining the coat.

There’s a list of animal skins that cannot be sold or traded for personal use. And leopard skin is very high on that list.

1962 Oleg Cassini real leopard skin coat.

The last notable person to wear the actual skins of leopard(s) was Jacqueline Kennedy (and boy did she face criticism.)

Et voila mes amies, un petit historie of the worlds most infamous print.


In an effort to keep this post within a reasonable span of attention, I grazed over the history of the print. The is no way I could capture such a vast history in one post.

Did you know the difference between the patterns of large cats?

How much leopard or cat print do you own?

Ciao for now!

NOTES:
Leopard Print has loose dark rings with a rosette (or slightly different color in the middle.)
Jaguar Print has larger (than leopard) rings with a solid dot in the middle.
Cheetah Print has no rings, just spots.

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