The Leopard-Print Midi Skirt Is the Summer Trend That Won’t Die

You’ve seen it on Instagram, the racks of your favorite department store and your morning commute. The silky, sultry leopard-print midi skirt is everywhere these days and has become a seemingly tailor-made wardrobe staple for “hot girl summer,” Megan Thee Stallion’s seasonal mantra of unabashed self-confidence.

The trend’s origins have been widely attributed to the online retailer Réalisation Par, which released its Naomi skirt, a bronze silk knee-length slip pelted with the animal’s print, in March 2018.

Its initial popularity was driven by influencers in New York and Los Angeles who had ascribed little-black-dress status to the skirt. Now there are innumerable copycats, from influencer-bait labels including Ganni and Reformation, as well as fast-fashion brands like Zara, Topshop and Forever 21. The skirt even inspired an anthropomorphic Instagram account, @leopardmidiskirt, which features photographs of women doing activities like balancing a beer can on their butt or taking a bathroom selfie while wearing the skirt.

Teale Talbot, a founder of Réalisation Par, believes that the skirt’s appeal can be pinned down to its “versatility”: It’s sexy, but not too sexy for work, and looks good on everyone. “It suits all body shapes, and because it’s made from silk and drapes just beautifully,” Ms. Talbot wrote in an email. While she admits that the brand didn’t “invent” the leopard print skirt, she said she and her co-founder, Alexandra Spencer, “nailed the fabric, print and silhouette in a certain way that made it very wearable and caught people’s attention.”

Réalisation Par was definitely onto something. For New York Fashion Week in February 2018, Tom Ford, Diane von Furstenberg and Victoria Beckham all pulled together a menagerie of leopard-print apparel. Sarah Tam, the chief merchant officer at Rent the Runway, remembers the animal-print trend percolating in December 2017 and going into “full force” by February. According to her, it was “perfect timing” when Réalisation Par introduced its skirt in March because the brand invested in leopard print fur coats, blouses, pants and skirts before its release.

While Rent the Runway doesn’t carry the Réalisation Par design, it currently stocks about a dozen styles of leopard-printed skirt from brands like Moon River and Sanctuary. “This spring, we increased our stock over 700 percent of animal prints — our leopard print skirt — in particular, is being utilized 40 percent higher than our normal skirt,” Ms. Tam said in a phone interview. In terms of sales and rentals, the leopard-print skirt became the company’s most sought-after animal-printed item for spring 2019.

Marshal Cohen, the chief industry adviser for the NPD Group, a market research firm, hasn’t seen leopard print at the forefront of fashion in over a decade, but he said that currently “the luxury market is looking for a way to capitalize on animal print and make it more their own.” He added that when luxury puts a trend on the runway and in-stores, it’s something that the lower end of the market can copy quickly.

“Adding the element of silk keeps it on the higher end for the consumer,” Mr. Cohen said. “That’s the thing you won’t see a lot of the lower-end market run towards, and that’s how they separate themselves these days.”

That also fits in with the history of leopard print, said Emma McClendon, the associate curator of costume at the Museum at F.I.T. and of the forthcoming exhibit “Power Mode.” The print, she said, has long represented “a connection between power, wealth and a certain type of ostentatious showiness.”

She believes the history of leopard print can be traced back to the robe à la française from the 18th century, which featured an elaborate brocade of leopard print motif along with florals. But she also noted two key moments from the 20th century: in 1962, when Jackie Kennedy was photographed with John F. Kennedy sporting a leopard-print coat from Oleg Cassini, and upon the release of “The Graduate,” in 1967, when Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) donned a leopard-print lingerie set which “positioned leopard print as not only powerful but extremely sexual as well.”

“When we’re talking about a body, particularly a female body, sheathed in leopard print, that is something that immediately can bring up a very strong reaction with people along the axes of power, sex and taste,” Ms. McClendon said.

Maybe we should be calling it “cat-girl summer.”

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