Book Review: FIERCE: The History of Leopard Print

TITLE: FIERCE: The History of Leopard Print
BY: Jo Weldon
PUBLISHED BY: Harper Design, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPubishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-269295-5
Review copy provided by author

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This book is dedicated to “the BIG Cats, the people they INSPIRE, and the people who work to preserve their lives and HABITATS.” But it’s intended for all you wild things out there who love to wear leopard print. It’s a historic study of the vivid, spotted fur of a beautiful beast whose strength and independent nature inspired women, who are usually the downtrodden, powerless members of society, to be strong and fearless too.

Being a livelong lover of leopard print myself, I have worn it in every way possible. My favorite loafers and sneakers are leopard print; so is a well-worn pair of high heels, along with one of my mock turtleneck tops, a short-sleeved blouse and a pair of stretch pants. Of course I have a leopard print nightgown, and a sleepshirt, as well as pajamas. I also have a leopard print bra, for which I have yet to find matching undies. I laugh to scorn the conventional notion that women over fifty shouldn’t wear leopard print. I’ve worn it more often since I turned fifty. I use it as an accessory, to set off my favorite clothes. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to wear head to toe leopard print, though certain celebrities, from Peg Bundy of “Married With Children” to Pat Benatar, who regularly performed in a leotard or catsuit, are not shy about doing so.

Jo Weldon, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, both at her book signing at the Coney Island Museum and at her burlesque show afterwards, can best be described as a woman of a certain age who doesn’t look her age. She is a dynamic redhead who strips beautifully, teaches at the New York School of Burlesque, and is an advocate of women’s rights. She is also a lover of all things leopard from childhood, starting with her obsession with Eartha Kitt as Catwoman on the beloved Batman TV show of the 60’s. The Caped Crusader had a hard time handling this sex kitten; he always defeated her by the end of the episode, but she made him work for it. Even though she always wore a black leather catsuit, her hideout was always lavishly decorated in leopard print. My favorite Catwoman was always Julie Newmar, but I have to agree with Jo Weldon, who wrote in her introduction, “Who wouldn’t rather live in Catwoman’s world, a place where everyone wore brightly colored, gorgeous clothing?” Next to her, the other villains on “Batman” looked drab. (With the exception of Liberace, who played Chandell, aka Fingers the criminal pianist, but I digress…)

Ms. Weldon’s book takes us through the history of leopard print, from ancient times when it was worn by priestesses and Amazon woman warriors to the Industrial Revolution, when it became possible to replicate leopard print on fabric, thereby making it available to every woman who could afford it. From Hollywood in its infancy, when every starlet who wanted to stand out would wear fur or pose with a predatory animal on a leash for publicity photos, up to the present, where leopards and other big cats have been hunted almost to the point of extinction, making faux fur both fashionable and politically correct. Some of my favorite actresses have worn leopard print, including Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Barbara Streisand, and Phyllis Diller, who made tacky look fun. All of these fabulous ladies and more, as well as a few fabulous men, appear on the pages of “Fierce” wearing leopard print dresses, coats, bikinis, capes, and so on. Even Jackie Kennedy in her famous leopard skin pillbox hat (immortalized by Bob Dylan’s song) briefly wore a leopard skin coat, thereby making it respectable for the American housewife to do so.

The pictures alone are worth your time, as you browse through this book discovering fun facts about leopards and the popularity of their spotted coats, along with other big cat species like jaguar, cheetah, ocelot, and so on. But nothing beats a great leopard print, worn by a woman who’s not afraid to be noticed, and be labeled rebellious, dangerous, outspoken, outrageous, and everything else a nice woman isn’t supposed to be. Or, in one word, fierce!