Leopards are carnivorous cats distinguished by their strength, adaptability and rosette-speckled fur, which acts as easy camouflage in their natural environments. If you’ve ever adorned yourself with some sort of leopard print clothing or accessory, you may have felt a certain power in its furry grip ― a connection to nature, a feline poise, the fearlessness of a predator.
Haitian-Canadian photographer Émilie Régnier has long been fascinated by the eternally fashionable pattern, for both its history and the almost supernatural powers it endows those who don it.
For her series “Leopard,” the artist traveled to Dakar, Senegal; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Johannesburg, South Africa; Paris, France; and a small town in Texas, documenting the diverse individuals who overlapped in their soft spot for the soft spots.
The project began when Régnier was searching for new models in Paris. She encountered a woman there who showed up for a shoot wearing a leopard print boubou ― a long, African dress. “The image of this woman inhabited me for days onwards,” Régnier wrote in a statement to HuffPost. She then realized how frequently leopard print appeared in the world around her. “It was worn everywhere and by everyone,” she said.
Leopard print has different connotations depending on the time and place in which it appears. In Africa, dating back to the kings under British colonialism, leopard fur equals power, derived from the image of the leopard as “king of the jungle.” A former president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, was known for donning a leopard print toque ― a tight fitting hat ― that henceforth associated the animal template with authority.
One of Régnier’s subjects is a man named Samuel Weidi, who works as a professional Mobutu impersonator. It is undoubtedly the signature hat that makes Weidi’s identity legible, and it almost feels as if the print’s power makes the wearer stand up a bit straighter.
The photo series introduced Régnier to a variety of individuals who gravitated toward leopard for very different reasons. For the wealthy fashionistas in Paris, leopard had been a sign of luxury since Christian Dior introduced animal print into his 1947 collection, officially dubbing it “haute couture.”
For a tattoo artist named Larry based in Texas, however, leopard print is literally a second skin. The man posed nude for Régnier, his entire body covered in spots thanks to over 1,000 tattoos.
Ultimately, Régnier’s project follows it single motif around the world, documenting the various individuals who, regardless of age, gender, profession or personal style, are drawn to leopard print’s alluring presence.