Exploring Leopard Obsessions Across The World – From Paris To The Congo

Animal print has been a popular fashion-choice for decades. Before it became commonplace however it was generally thought of as an expensive garment – considered something rather exotic.

Amid African colonisation, the leopard also became one of the most repeated animals to appear in fashion since the wolly mammoth – from Mobutu to Dior.

It was seen as a symbol of power, wealth and status; worn by kings, queens and the uber-rich.

Infatuated with the symbolic significance of leopards, Canadian-born photographer, Emilie Regnier, had decided to track-down modern renditions of this status-enhancing material.

Chef Matadi Kibala, Kinshasa, 2015 (Photograph: Emilie Reginer)

Chef Matadi Kibala, Kinshasa, 2015 (Photograph: Emilie Regnier)

To find the fashionistas basking in the skin of these incredible cats Reginer cast a wide net, travelling to Texas, New York, Paris and Johannesburg – to name but a few.

Her aim was to locate people from different backgrounds who had adopted leopard print, and find out what it meant to them.

Samuel Weidi (seen below) had spent his life impersonating former Congolian President, Mobutu Sese Seko.

"Each morning he wakes up, puts on the same hat as Mobutu, the stick, dresses like him. Not just for photos," Regnier told Konbini at the Contemporary African Arts Fair in London.

Chef Matadi Kibala (seen above) is a popular tribal chef in Kinshasa, the largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

After seeking approval from his ancestors he asked Regnier to take the photo in front of his Jeep. "He changed three times" to show the extent of his cultural attire, she explains.

One man named Larry was fully covered in leopard tattoos, "even his genitals".

His obsession for leopards started in 1993 when he dropped out of college and began living on the streets, he tells Regnier.

"I've seen so much inhumanity from humans towards humans that I wanted to get out of the human race, so I became a leopard man"

Larry, Texas, 2015 (Photograph: Emilie Reginer)

Larry, Texas, 2015 (Photograph: Emilie Regnier)

Amidst her world tour of leopard Regnier met with numerous colourful characters, from DJs in Paris to 60-year-old ladies in Africa with full leopard-print towels.

The most interesting aspect of her venture was discovering how leopard went from haute couture to urban fashion in just a matter of decades.

In 1947 Dior became the first to produce leopard print clothing and fur. It was prevalent at the start of the 20th century but was made for "prostitutes, or women with little virtue," Regnier said.

Since then though it has spread and became a near-abundant material, featuring in Dolce & Gabbana campaigns as well as on the catwalk and in Kanye West shows.

Regnier will exhibit all of the photographs from this series at Paris Photo from November 13.

Madame Faye, Dakar, 2015(Photograph: Emilie Reginer)

Madame Faye, Dakar, 2015 (Photograph: Emilie Regnier)

Samuel Weidi, Kinshasa, 2015 (Photograph: Emilie Regnier)

Samuel Weidi, Kinshasa, 2015 (Photograph: Emilie Regnier)

Read more -> Meet the artists changing the face of contemporary African art

Writer and photographer from South London, UK. If you want to get in touch please email me at: matthew.kirby@konbini.com