Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In the News: Leopard Print

In lieu of a new outfit today, I wanted to do a quick post about this article, "Leopard print vs. 'the investment piece,'" in Slate by Simon Doonan, creative director at Barneys, commentator on VH1's I Love the 70s/80s/90s series, and occasional America's Next Top Model style mentor guest.  While Doonan's article is a bit all over the place, I think it raises interesting issues about the marketing of fashion pieces, how trends are identified, and what gets to be called an "investment piece" and what doesn't.

Doonan observes that seasonal trends are anointed in "a desperate attempt to spot the glimmerings of a coherent message" in order to "help you, the ordinary woman in the street, navigate the vast and unpredictable terrain of the fashion apocalypse."  In other words, trends are imposed narratives designed to organize and neatly delineate the intrinsically incohesive fashion world.  Furthermore, certain trends are actually classic, perennial looks that the fashion world simply relabels as "trendy" - a move that Doonan calls "cheating."

I like how Doonan uses the supposedly new leopard print trend to interrogate this trend "cheating" and to complicate our notion of "investment pieces."  He acknowledges the boldness of leopard print and its cultural connotation of tackiness, but juxtaposes this "tacky, theatrical, and sad, albeit fabulously so" print with various examples of leopard print's endurance through time.  To conclude, he puts leopard print in conversation with talk of "investment pieces" - which he interestingly labels as a trend - to say that no one in fashion marketing 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."  Leopard print, though a perennial look, has too much cultural baggage to be called an "investment piece" though it otherwise would be, just like a "Reed Krakoff military great coat."  And Doonan blames that marketing problem for the lack of leopard print he sees on the subway - basically, the label of safe "investment piece" has killed the recent bolder leopard print "trend."

I previous wrote about my own experience with leopard print. In that post, I acknowledge that animal prints can be "tricky," but that "my approach to animal prints has been to either use them as accents or to use them to spice up more conservative styles."

This shirt's classic and relatively conservative shape lets the leopard print stand out but not overwhelm.  I consider this top an investment piece, and I get a lot of wear out of it: as I stated in the post about it, "I can wear it with a pencil skirt and heels or, as I do here, with jeans."  While leopard print may not suit everyone's taste, and while it can veer into the absurd, I think with the right, measured approach, it can be an investment piece.

  • Can leopard print - or any animal print - be an investment piece?
  • How do you define an investment piece?


E-Jo said...

Thanks for passing on this article. I kind of love Simon Doonan and this is a really interesting take on this distinction between "trendy" and "classic."

That leopard print shirt looks great on you!

Kimberly said...

Wow. That article was...unexpected. I guess I don't understand the claim that leopard print can't actually ever become a classic, or investment piece, because of its more flashy heritage. Then again, I find the whole idea of building a wardrobe as an "investment" as silly an idea as buying a house as an "investment". Both houses and wardrobes are something you're supposed to live in, love, and wear out (or pass on to loved ones), and both should be ways in which you convey your true nature, personality, and changing public image to the world. Who wants to be around someone whose house, or wardrobe, says nothing other than, "Ooh, admire me. I only buy the best"?

Plus, I'm a redhead. I think there's a law against redheads going a week without wearing leopard print. My leopard print dress shoes, blazer, purse, sweater, skirts, and scarves can attest to that.

Scholar Style Guide said...

I don't know why I pretended like I was going to actually get a chance to read this essay and have a chance to respond intelligently-- but thanks for linking to it. I look forward to coming back to it when things die down a bit, and I'll share some preliminary thoughts here.

I am quite intrigued by the argument as you've presented it. I feel like "red" things used to have a similar connotation as leopard print things-- flashy, sexy, giving of the vibe that a woman is "asking for it." So it is interesting to me that red things, at least now, CAN function as "investment" pieces. The red heel, which was once a total taboo for any professional woman, is almost ubiquitous (and certainly more common than any other single hued shoe, I would say). So I wonder if it is really impossible for leopard print to jump the border, or if it will just take longer. Or if it will take more women wearing it in "tasteful" ways to finally condition our minds to thinking of it as acceptable.