Print Me!

Posted by Jill Chivers in My Story

Hello from paradise and welcome to blog #9. It’s a glorious Sunday, January 10, and if the humidity would only drop a notch or two, I may be able to get some makeup on my face before it all liquifies and get some of the kinks out of my hair. (I said hair). It’s good for the skin, apparently, humidity – opens up the pores and all that – but you need to remember to sandpaper often so that the dead skin cells are sloughed (pronouced sloffed, rhyming as it does with scoffed) off. Hmm, lovely – nothing like a little bit of sloughing to start the day off right.

Anyway, speaking of skin…. I have a thing for animal skins – well, more accurately, animal prints (it’s fake all the way with me, baby!) My fetish really began as a small bias in 2000. We were living in Sydney and had just renovated a 3-bedroom apartment in an inner city suburb, with a big balcony looking out at the twinkling lights of the Emerald city. How I loved sitting out there, looking at Sydney! There was no animal print in the apartment, and from memory, none in my wardrobe either. How things have changed!

Zebra rug. The first animal print thing I remember buying was a zebra throw rug which I still have today.  That’s it to the left, adorning the back of a sofa.  It was quite expensive (and what that meant to me at the time was: over $500).  I bought it at some swanky interiors store in Sydney. If you want true swank, go to Sydney. Sydney is too rushed for true snobbery, Melbourne is much better at that. Brisbane can’t be bothered being swanky or snobby, although its amusing to see it try from time to time. Anyway. I had no idea why I loved that rug so much, or why it appealed to me so much. Not a lot of analysis went into it – it was pure impulse.

That same year, I became a CIP, Certified Image Professional. This process requires extensive documentation proving that you’re doing a whole swag of things in the image profession – seeing clients, making money, being part of the professional association, staying educated. The woman who assessed me, Karen Snow, was based in Palo Alto, California and we happened to be visiting San Francisco later in the year. Karen took me to lunch in Marin and it was really Karen who sparked the small flame that was to flicker into the bonfire that is my full blown love affair with animal print today. I recall making some passing comment about “liking leopard print” or something of that nature, and Karen said something along the lines of “well, with your freckles, animal print really works for you”… she probably used words like “skin tone” and “complementary” and “harmony”.

Whatever words she used, the message stuck. Within a couple of years, my wardrobe had expanded to include many animal print items (including the lining of suits and jackets). And now? I wear animal print every day. Almost always you can see it, but even if you can’t, I’m wearing it.

Daytime dramas. One of the upsides (or downsides – I can never quite determine which one it is) of working from home is that I can structure my day any way I like. I can take mornings off and work late into the evening, I can take whole days off and work a Sunday like I am today. I can watch a bit of daytime television, if I am feeling truly decadent. I usually don’t like The View — too many people talking over the top of one another — but I caught an end of 2009 episode where they were talking about upcoming trends.

The three fashion trends they spotted were (in order) for 2010 are:

1. animal print. Whilst this made me smile (goodie- I wont be out of fashion in 2010), I did wonder: Is this really a “fashion trend”? See, I see animal print as being perennial. It’s a constant on the fashion landscape – it never goes out, so how can it come in?
2. studs – that’s on clothing and accessories that we’re talking about, right…. studded belts, studded handbags, studded sandshoes, studded jeans…. it’s a studly year comin’ up folks….
3. bright “pops” of colour mainly in accessories. This is for the panther-print wearing people, it seems, who could spark up their monochromatic gear with a bright yellow belt, or fire engine red pumps or a papal purple bag or… well, you get the idea.
If you do a Google search on “fashion trend” and “animal print”, over 100,000 sites come up. One states that “leopard prints are classy and sassy without being trashy”. Oh, yeah, baby – you got it. There’s also a host of “fashion police” sites that tell us who’s getting it wrong (Christina Aguilera apparently) and getting it right (Jessica Alba apparently).

So I haven’t really analysed my love for animal print beyond the fact that I own up to it completely and don’t mind who knows. Friends tell me that buying me gifts is easy – anything animal print will do it for me (animal print tissues being one of my favourites). Some say there is a “dark side” to this penchant for prints, which I’m not convinced about. When a guest saw our animal print broom, there was a moment of “is this too much?” Nevvah!

How many you got? This photo shows you the animal print jackets hanging in my wardrobe. I have 18 animal print jackets in total and this includes 3 trench coats and 3 more overcoat-style coats.

The other 12 range from tailoured/lined jackets through to more casual styles. I love and wear them all, weather permitting – many get worn when I’m travelling as our Sunshine Coast weather is warm even in winter.

Since about 2003, I have been wearing animal print jackets when I work with clients. Doing this was about claiming and expressing an essential part of me which was not being claimed or expressed in black, navy, or tan suits (or any other coloured suit).

I wondered if my more conservative clients – like law firms, banks and accounting/advisory firms – would have an issue (spoken or unspoken) about me not wearing a plain tailoured suit when running workshops with their staff. Never once came up as a negative. I’ve had plenty of comments over the years, but no criticisms. (well, none in my earshot!)

Oh Peg! My biggest fear is that I would come off “Peg Bundy” (from the TV show Married With Children) – all trash, no sass and certainly no class.  That’s Peg to the left there, in all her radiant glory – hard to tear your eyes off her, isn’t it?

What I’ve discovered is that the style of clothing makes a huge difference in how sassy and classy you look, as does the fabric and type of print. Taking my cue from how designers do it helps — my Escada silk shirt is pure class and offers inspiration for other items. I had made a beautiful animal print shirt made out of quality silk, tailoured to fit me perfectly in a flattering cross-over jacket style that makes me feel a million bucks. Nothing too tight or bulge-revealing (even the “good” bulges).

How animal print is worn is also important. I knew a flambuoyant dressmaker who used to mix his animal prints up all the time — a zebra scarf with a leopard jacket with another printed belt. It did look sensational on him — all bohemian and devil-may-care. You’ve gotta have a certain j’en e ce quois to pull that multi-print look off and I’ve found a safer way, one where I don’t have to be wondering at multiple points throughout the day do I look like I fell into a rag box and this is what stuck to me when I crawled out? I mean, there are so many other things to be thinking about such as does my bum look big in this?

And that little tip is to limit the animal print items worn to one clothing item and one accessory item. Some folks would limit it to one total — I’m wearing zebra print earrings – I’m done, everything else must be plain – clothes, shoes, bag, jewellery. Or I’ve got a leopard print jacket on, everything else must be panther – black pants, black top, black bag, black shoes. This is the super-safe way to wear prints — you probably wont stuff it up if you limit your animal print to one item only.

For me, I’ll do the animal print silk shirt and wear the animal print shoes, too (I have a gaggle of animal print shoes, too). Call me a crazy risk taker if you must.

Whatever else it’s about, animal print feels like “me” – it’s become a signature style for me and it resonates for me in how I feel. I’ve been told it looks good on me and even by people who have style themselves. In the oh-so-subjective, excruciatingly agonising way that many women view themselves when they look in the mirror – I like what I see when I’m wearing animal print. That’s gotta be a good thing. Right?

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