To celebrate the release of her first book, ‘Leopard: Fashion’s Most Powerful Print’, we caught up with award-winning journalist Hilary Alexander OBE, to discuss the enduring appeal of fashion’s most powerful print.
Your new book, ‘Leopard: Fashion’s Most Powerful Print’, examines the phenomenon of leopard. Why do you think leopard holds such an esteemed place in popular culture?
The leopard has been a powerful attraction since the dawn of time. Ancient civilisations revered it for its power – the Ancient Egyptians believed the ‘rosette’ markings represented the stars, and kings and warriors wore it to show strength. Over time, leopard came to represent both glamour and, as a print, an in-your-face style statement. Today it’s regarded as both a neutral and a classic.
‘Leopard’ is a visual archive of the most iconic leopard images the world has ever seen. Which are your personal favourites?
Most of my favourites are included in the book: Keith Richards (p.155), the 1997/98 Alexander McQueen show, the SPICE Girls (p.97), and Yasmeen Ghauri in a beaded Maison Lesage gown created in collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier for his A/W 1998 couture show. This dress is currently on show at the V&A Museum in London if you’d like to see it up close.
For the past few seasons leopard has been spotted everywhere from the catwalks of the world’s most prolific fashion designers through to the most accessible stores on the British high street. Why do you think leopard is being so widely celebrated, and will it ever go out of style?
In fashion, every trend has its time in the spotlight. The fact that Donatella Versace used it so significantly in her September 2017 homage to Gianni – and then Tom Ford went electric neon leopard-print on his catwalk in February of this year – gave it a fresh take, which the high street found impossible to ignore. And, of course, there’s always a new generation of shoppers/fashionistas who may not have been born the last time leopard was a major ‘look’. But for true leopard print aficionados, it’s always stylish.
Former US Vogue Editor-in-Chief Diana Vreeland is famously quoted as saying “I’ve never met a leopard print I didn’t like”. Would you agree – are all leopard prints created equal?
I think leopard print works best when it’s in natural, earthy tones like tan/black or brown/black. I’m not so keen on scarlet or emerald leopard print. But Vreeland probably wouldn’t agree, as she loved being “modern”.
In the book you examine the enduring appeal of leopard from all angles, which is why Coronation Street character Bet Lynch features alongside film and fashion royalty such as Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Jones and Anna Wintour. Why did you choose to include a British soap character, and how would you summarise her influence on how we view leopard in the UK?
Bet Lynch became famous for her love of leopard print, at a time when it was probably considered a bit vulgar and racy in some circles. That’s why punks, rock stars and the more fringe elements of fashion loved it!
Who would you consider to be the pioneers who helped shape our love for leopard?
Leopard print pioneers would have to be Diane Von Furstenberg, Debbie Harry, Kate Moss, Bet Lynch, Rod Stewart, Carine Roitfeld, Anna Wintour – there are too many to list!
Often when we think about leopard we think about sex appeal. Why do you think leopard is synonymous with the femme fatale?
Apparently psychologists believe that the adrenaline aroused in our brains by the sight of a leopard’s spots was once (in the days of cavemen and women) fear, and over the millennia this arousal has been transformed into attraction. The print was definitely seen as sexy by 50s Hollywood, hence the proliferation of pin-ups in leopard print bikinis and swimsuits. But in the music biz, just as many men wear it – look at Slash, Keith, Steve Tyler, Rod and Prince. Before them it was swing greats like Duke Ellington and early rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis.
How much leopard do you yourself own, and is it just in your wardrobe or does it spill over into other areas, such as your home?
I have masses of leopard print; about eight pairs of leggings, five dresses, a coat, sweaters, t-shirts, Converse trainers, Clarks lace-ups, a Philip Treacy hat (like the one Grace Jones wears in the book), leopard print sheets, cushions, a statue, several prints on the walls, my phone cover – you could say I’m obsessed!
Do you have any rules when it comes to wearing leopard?
I try not to overdo it, so it’s one piece at a time. Usually black or white tops with leopard print leggings or a plain coat with a leopard print dress.
If you had to summarise your book in one sentence, why is leopard fashion’s most powerful print?
Because it’s fabulous… but I couldn’t put it better than Donatella Versace, who said, in ‘Leopard’s‘ foreword: “Why do we love to wear leopard print? So we can feel closer to something that is breathtaking beautiful, graceful and precious… and just a little bit dangerous.”
‘Leopard: Fashion’s Most Powerful Print‘ by Hilary Alexander is published by Laurence King.