Leopard print vs. the "investment piece."

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Oct. 29 2010 11:36 AM

Which Trends Fail?

Leopard print vs. the "investment piece."

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

So there I was, yet again, riding the New York subway with my face painted up like a tart. This is always happening to me. After lensing some TV segment or other, I skip out of the studio, forgetting to scrape off the pancake, and head back to work looking a bit like the Dirk Bogarde character in Visconti's Death in Venice. I only realize what I have done when people start peering at my sliding maquillage. It would be just my luck for Carl Paladino to come and sit next to me, clock my foundation, and then denounce me to adjacent travelers: "See! This one's covered in make-up! I told you they were creepy and unsavory."

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

Intent on avoiding detection, I stuck my nose in a magazine wherein my eyes fell upon—yes, you guessed it!—yet another fashion piece about the LEOPARD TREND. Has any fashion fixation ever been more overheralded than this season's obsession with those predatory pussies?

Dolce and Gabbana leopard print. Click image to expand.
A leopard-print dress by Dolce & Gabbana

It started last spring with a couple of rather nifty looks from the largely non-leopard show at Dolce and Gabbana, a Lanvin purse or two and a Louboutin shoe. Based on these items, the mysterious Goddess of Trends—she spends her days rummaging through the utterly incomprehensible contemporary fashion landscape in a desperate attempt to spot the glimmerings of a coherent message—decreed that leopard would be the life-changing focus of this fall. Throughout the summer, magazines and fashion oracles were vaunting and flaunting an imminent deluge.

This trend-spotting system is designed to help you, the ordinary woman in the street, navigate the vast and unpredictable terrain of the fashion apocalypse. Sometimes the system works: cargo pants, bonjour! (This past summer, the new skinnier shorter cargo provided the women of the western hemisphere with a desperately needed alternative to the ubiquitous but played out Daisy Dukes.) But sometimes the system cheats by identifying perennial styles like Western or military and pretending they are new AGAIN! And sometimes it shoots blanks … which brings us back to leopard print, or "leper print" as Bobby Trendy, Anna Nicole Smith's decorator, always dubbed it, back in those halcyon days when he was festooning her reality show boudoir.

I lowered my mag and surveyed the packed subway car. Not one leopard-print scarf. Not a blouse or a babushka! Nobody was wearing that luscious three-quarter-sleeve coat, so prominently featured in all the Talbot's ads this season. Not a dickie or a dashiki. Not so much as a leopard yarmulke. What a disappointment! How much more cheery and life-enhancing this subway tableau would be if everyone were to have leapt on the leopard bandwagon!

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Perhaps it's not surprising that this trend hasn't yet caught on: The truth is that leopard print is challenging. It is not for sissies and comes with some serious baggage. It is tacky, theatrical, and sad, albeit fabulously so.

For a tacky moment, Google-image Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay, sucking in their midriffs, sporting bikinis by Frederick's of Hollywood. *

For a theatrical thrill, remember Gloria Swanson in her leopard-trimmed, Edith Head-designed cabana couture in Sunset Boulevard, and then remember Biba in the '70s.

For sadness, weep over Diane Arbus' "Lady Bartender"' in her nifty vest.

Leopard-print garments are so dripping with 20th-century resonance and nostalgic pastiche that they are much too much for the average broad to handle. And the fact that there was, for this particular season, a very different trend, one diametrically opposed to leopard print, cannot have helped matters either.

That trend, the other thing fashion hacks and retailers haven't stopped nattering about, is "investment pieces." This depressing concept invariably rears its annoying head during recessionary times. And so, when the fashion oracles aren't screeching about animal prints, they have been encouraging the women of America to buy based on the insane notion that such and such is so classic and timeless that you will wear it forever. Why, when you invest in that Celine leather something-or-other or this Reed Krakoff military great coat, you are almost making money! No, seriously, you are!

Cover of Bettie Page: The Girl in the Leopard Print Bikini.
Bettie Page

As audacious as this message is, no retailer or fashion commentator is ballsy enough to actually claim that a leopard print, with its nod to Bettie Page's pastie-twirling, burlesque high jinks, could ever be packaged and sold as an investment.

That is … until now. Brace yourselves: The leopard Snuggie from Target, is, at $14.99, a totally great investment piece!

Grrrrrrrr!

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Correction, Nov. 5, 2010: This article originally misspelled Jayne Mansfield's first name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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