Sonia, my 90-years-strong mother-in-law, is a huge fan of all things leopard print.
This black and brown, swirly patterned motif not only dominates her wardrobe and stylish jewelry, but can be found on material hugging the steering wheel of her 1989 Oldsmobile ’88, as well as on numerous chatzkies scattered throughout her tailoring shop in Overland Park, Kansas.
I used to chuckle about this until lately, when I’ve begun noticing a preponderance of leopard print clothing, shoes, hats, coats with fake fur, scarves, place mats, raincoats/umbrellas and countless accoutrements (headbands, purses, shower caps and belts, to name a few)!
I guess I wasn’t paying close attention to this phenomenon when I happened to find these footprints on the sunglasses frames in my glove compartment and gracing the powder stool of an antique vanity that sits in our spare bedroom.
What brings this popular, eye-pleasing animal print into sharper focus is our daughter Leah’s work-in-progress documentary, titled “Big Sonia” (BigSonia.com), and a recent fundraising party for the film hosted by Alexis Baking Co. Since leopard print is the film’s signature graphic, our job was to seek out grab-bag gifts apropos to that theme.
One of the most pleasant surprises on our quest was exploring Hancock Fabrics, located in the River Park Shopping Mall. The store has the old-fashioned look, ambience and bustle of the very one my own mother spent countless hours in, poring over just the right Simplicity/McCall patterns, endless bolts of floral material and matching plastic buttons to dress her three daughters.
A veritable “candy store” for sewers, quilters, crafters and oddity-seekers (like us), Hancock’s eclectic, stocked- to-the-max inventory is reminiscent of a 1950s “five and dime” minus the lunch counter. Open seven days a week, the 20-year-old store is the site of a former roller rink where store manager and Napa native Kerry Frakey remembers roller skating.
“It’s great to see sewing and crafting making a resurgence,” she commented, “and to watch a revitalization in the area. The shopping center was definitely getting a little tired, and the new owners want to make it better. We’re hoping for a mini-remodel with new signage and fixtures.”
Frakey also shared that animal prints have always been trendy, popular and timeless. In addition to leopard, you can find cheetah, zebra, tiger and giraffe-printed clothing on the world’s fashion runways as well as on home decorator fabrics and accessories.
In an informative article on the history of animal print (animalcollectivism.com/?portfolio=iris-tang), Iris Tang points out that “back in the day,” cavemen used the real fur of animals to keep warm and as protective clothing. Over time, the wearing of these stylized prints became symbolic of style, social status and power.
My favorite part of the article is the photos of iconic women (and a few men) who donned the animal print apparel of their times, including pin-up girl Bettie Page, actresses Starlet Nixon and Marilyn Monroe, first lady Jackie Kennedy and in a more contemporary look, the Spice Girls!
Last but not least, the photo of Elizabeth Taylor in her leopard print, one-piece swimsuit, brings me full circle. Sonia worshipped at her altar; and maybe, just maybe, surrounding herself with these muted colors and animated prints imbues her with that enduring memory of class, style and trendiness.
Sonia has always been fashionably ahead of her time!