Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Robert Siodmak’s tense crime thriller Cry of the City (1948). Siodmak’s masterful tale of two men on different sides of the law features a young Shelley Winters, making a brief but memorable appearance clad in a dramatic leopard print coat. Here’s a round-up of a few more memorable leopard print costumes, from the supremely chic to the magnificently tacky.
Why just wear leopard print when you can actually dress as a leopard? This seems to be the rationale of dancer Josette (Dolores del Rio) in Orson Welles’ thriller Journey into Fear. Josette’s stage costume is extraordinary, even by showgirl standards: a skin-tight body with cut-outs and one sleeve; a cap with ears, face and whiskers; a glove; and a satin, fur-trimmed cape. Outstanding.
Costume designer Edith Head dressed ageing film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in a style which mixed the contemporary New Look (fitted waists and full skirts) with the vamp-ish glamour that defined Norma’s glory days in the 1920s. The abundance of leopard print, particularly in the poolside scene, perfectly expresses Norma’s vulgarity and excess.
Howard Hawks’ frothy 1953 musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes sees Marilyn Monroe play gold-digging showgirl Lorelai Lee. Boarding the boat to Paris – where she hopes to marry millionaire Gus – Lorelai decks herself out in a black dress, leopard cape, and leopard muff. The luxurious fur gives her an air of expensive glamour; she looks every bit as wealthy as she one day hopes to be.
Cyd Charisse’s notorious dance in Party Girl sees her writhing around in a leopard print costume with a matching headband. Putting the focus entirely on those famous legs, the costume (and the dance) is anything but subtle.
In Bell, Book and Candle Kim Novak plays Gillian, a Greenwich Village witch who favours beatnik black and bare feet. Sexy and dramatic, Gillian wears capes, long gloves and daring backless dresses. The sartorial highlight might be her leopard print cape, which she wears with a scarlet dress and matching elbow-length gloves. Regrettably, by the film’s end, she is rendered impotent by falling in love and swaps animal prints for pastels.
The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)In Mike Nichols’ legendary film The Graduate, Anne Bancroft’s Mrs Robinson has a penchant for younger men, monochrome, and lashings of leopard print. Perhaps the film that truly cemented leopard print’s association with a kind of calculated seduction, Bancroft manages to look both elegant and alluring in her leopard coat, leopard hat and even leopard underwear.
A boyfriend once told me that he could never find leopard print sexy because it reminds him of something his granny would wear. To which I say, what kind of granny did you have? And also, what about Patricia Arquette? In True Romance, Arquette plays call-girl Alabama Whitman, donning a series of outlandish outfits. A neon blonde bombshell, Alabama bares plenty of flesh in her gaudy ensembles, which include a pair of pink leopard leggings and a faux leopard coat. She even gets hitched in leopard print. Seducing Christian Slater and just about everyone in the audience too, Alabama is the ultimate pulp pin-up.