In Defense of the Tiger

A little while ago I caught part of Laura Bush's tour of the White House (CNN? Ah, I forget.). To be perfectly blunt, the private rooms were abysmally boring in a weirdly suburban sort of way, and the public rooms... were, well...per usual, with all of their historically laden rigidity. The one thing that did stand out was Laura Bush's Directoire settee, which she had proudly reupholstered in tiger-print velvet, apparently to the dismay and horror of her mother-in-law:

Photo from People Magazine, Photography by Sam Jones

This made me smile in an I'm-so-warm-and-fuzzy moment, for a few reasons: 1. I'm a sucker for anything neo-classical. 2. I love a well done tiger (print, ha), especially on classical furniture. 3. Bush policies aside (blahblahblahbleh this is a style blog), the story is endearing, no? Particularly because she was so enamored with her decision.
Anyway, while searching for a photo online, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that not everyone shares my sentiments. People magazine, for one, deemed that the velvet upholstery was more suited to "Elvis Presley's jungle room" than the White House. Um, WHAT? This baffles me. Animal patterns have been used in very traditional contexts for a very long time. Think Elsie De Wolf. Leopard print was one of her signatures, and she's about as classical as they come. Or how about the Ancient Egyptians? They not only draped hides over chairs but also painted faux hide on the seats. Here are a few of my favorite uses of animal pattern, all about as far from Elvis as I am from, let's say, upholstering my head with polyester shag carpet. And that's far, kids, that's far.

1. A gorgeous leopard print plays off of red walls and draws out the richness of tonally warm antique wood.

Interiors, Ed. Min Hogg and Wendy Harrop, 1988.

2. A tiger skin rug conjures up images of game hunting and romantic 19th century notions of "exotic" travel in jewelry designer Kenneth Lane's bedroom.

From Beds by Diane Von Furstenberg, 1991.

3. Richly variegated leopard adds texture and brings out the soft gilded detail in a Napoleon I bed.

From Beds by Diane Von Furstenberg, 1991.

4. In a more serene setting, designer Francis Roos used a lush tiger velvet as an accent on a 19th century antique French Egyptian-revival stool.

Architectural Digest, January 1995.

5. And my all time favorite use of tiger and leopard: The drawing room at the Palazzo Brandolini, by Tony Duquette. Faux leopard moldings, drapes, tiger frames, pillows, and upholstery mingle with baroque Venetian palazzo architecture, 18th century Venetian armchairs, and countless other antiques.

From Tony Duquette by Wendy Goodman and Hutton Wilkinson, 2007.

6. And lastly, ...Welcome to the jungle, natural habitat of the leopard and tiger. Not to be confused with Elvis's jungle room. It pains me to say this, but perhaps it would be wise to keep Jim Beam out of decisions involving animal pattern.
Ahhhh, screw it. Who am I kidding? This is over the top fabulousness.

A caveat: all leopard is not created equal. When it's bad, it's really bad. And by this I mean, be wary of anything designed to be used in a car, placed on or in a toilet, or glowing like a radioactive bio-hazard:

Things one should never do with leopard.

Oh my god, my eyes hurt.

EDIT: Recently came across an Art and Antiques magazine that cited the Duchesse de Berry (1798-1870) as a key player in popularizing velvet leopard print fabrics. Go figure.

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