Cats and fashion have a longstanding relationship. Not only have they inspired clothing and accessories – from Elsa Schiaparelli's gold cat eye glasses to Miuccia Prada's Miu Miu cat print platforms – they have also featured in countless advertising campaigns and editorials over the years. Young and old wild cats, domestic versions as well as feline-inspired looks and poses have all all made appearances. Outside the fashion arena, cats have also been chosen to sell products ranging from flat-pack furniture, Post-It Notes, 1930s cigarettes and camera film. Maybe it's their cutesy, cuddly appeal; their feminine allure; their slick, I-know-what-I-want attitude; or, in the case of wild cats, an unlikely yet intriguing accompaniment for a designer handbag or naked model.
For the autumn/winter 2011 season, there are at least four cat-themed campaigns, including Naomi Campbell knelt on a Givenchy printed cushion sporting a fierce cat-like pose and Carine Roitfeld's first campaign for Chanel featuring Freja Beha Erichsen with whiskers. Photographed by Venetia Scott, Paula Ka's cinematic campaign for the season references the 1960s and features Eniko Mihalik in the luxurious setting of The Carlyle Hotel, with a tabby comfortably perched on the sofa.
Historically, the symbolism of a cat varies widely from beast of good to beast of evil omen depending on both the context; explicable simply in terms of the combination of the gentle and the sinister in the creature's appearance. Commonly, they can represent mystery and secrecy, wit and intelligence, and in some cases, sex appeal. In Ancient Rome, the cat was sacred to Diana, the Mood Goddess and was considered a guardian of homes and a symbol of domestic goodness. In Norse legend, the cat is depicted drawing the chariot of their fertility goddess, Freyja, and therefore the cat is thought of as a blessing upon newborns and a good omen for those increasing their family ranks. In Ancient Egypt, cats were sacred and were even depicted on the head of their lunar goddess, Bastet which was worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians. In her honor, cats were even mummified along with mice for them to eat. In Japan, cats are held to be beasts of ill omen, allegedly capable of killing women and assuming their appearance.
In the context of superstition, black cats are often thought to symbolise bad luck. Ignoring such belief and drawn to their graphic appeal, Lanvin chose to surround model Kristen McMenemy with a clowder of all-blacks in its celebrated autumn/winter 2010 campaign. Wild cats, often the younger and subsequently more amiable variety, have a history of being used in advertisements for luxury jewellery. A 49-year-old Julianne Moore was shot undressed with two lion cubs for Bulgari spring/summer 2010 – the campaign was deemed inappropriate by Venice mayor Giorgio Orsoni. The leopard is a key part of Cartier's iconography and its back catalogue features multiple cats. An early version from the 1950s, featuring a peering leopard in a shop window photographed by Jean Larivière, is currently one of the Most Loved posts on the AnOther Loves stream and this season, the French jewellery house debuted images by Terry Richardson featuring a baby cub.
Text by Laura Bradley