Call of the Wild
There are a few classic tricks in any interior decorator's toolbox, and the deft use of a leopard pattern or print is one of them. There is no greater example than the house of French artist, writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau in Milly-la-Forêt, decorated by renowned designer Madeleine Castaing in the late 1940's. Both had a penchant for leopard spots, which were used to great effect on the walls, ceiling – even the lampshade!– in Cocteau's study.
I absolutely adore Castaing's fearless take on decorating:
“Making a house is creating. I make houses like others write poetry, make music, or paint. A house is more of a likeness than a portrait. Don’t be intimidated by audacity; be audacious, but with taste. You also need intuition, originality, vigor. Avoid reproduction, that easy and banal method. Don’t get taken in by fashion. A secret: love your house; love makes miracles.”
Speaking of fearless, another 20th century icon of style and originality, Diana Vreeland, declared the following: “A world without leopards…I mean, who would want to BE there?!”
Having said that, when it comes to the big cat patterns, sometimes a little goes a long way. To the novices among you, I would say: thread lightly and start off with a few pillows, a slipper chair or a pair of benches. Witness the impact of the powerful pattern, and keep the rest of the décor classic: architectural moldings, traditional gilt frames, a handful of antiques.
To avoid the obvious trappings of kitsch, stick with natural fibers such as cotton, linen and rayon. Smaller scaled and lighter colored “snow leopards” are perfect for an all-over wall treatment, repeated on upholstery and pillows. The effect will be textural and surprisingly subdued.
Take all color out of the panther's pattern, and it becomes a cool graphic element, exotic graffiti, that will work with a wide variety of decorating styles, from traditional to contemporary.
My own personal experience with the “power of the panther” occurred when I lived in Manhattan's East Village, in the nineties, at that time still a hotbed for bohemia and aspiring hipsters. I had purchased a 1960's faux-fur leopard coat at the local flea – for about $5.00 if I remember correctly, as it was missing all the buttons and the lining had to be resewn. Even though it was about 3 sizes too large, I had to wrap it around and belt it, something magical happened when I wore it. My strut became a little more confident, I looked people square in the eye, and for the first time ever, I attempted a matching cat-eye eyeliner. Karl Lagerfeld was right: "You cannot fake chic, but you can be chic in fake fur."
I have one last quote for you, by French writer Colette: “Time spent with a cat is never wasted.” That one works for me on several levels.
Explore the decorating world of wild cats and find the fabric that is perfect for you!