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As Jo Weldon notes in her book Fierce: A History of Leopard Print, cat prints have always been in style. Leopards wore spots first, of course, but it wasn't long before women of vim and vigor began to adopt the pattern: A painting of Priestess Nefertiabet in her tomb in Giza shows her draped in a one-shoulder leopard print frock. That look dates from circa 2590 B.C.; a few millennia later, Les Cabinet des Modes, considered the first fashion magazine and published in Paris in the eighteenth century, featured a sketch of a regal leopard spot gown trimmed in lace. A couple centuries after that, a leopard-clad Marilyn Monroe was seducing Tommy Noonan in the 1953 film Gentleman Prefer Blondes. By which point, Mr. Valentino picked up the leopard print torch.

Leopard has been a go-to for Mr. Valentino from the start. The Valentino archive includes a belted cashmere jersey dress with tonal leopard spotting that dates from 1950—before the atelier was even up and running. Once it was, leopard became a mainstay: Mr. Valentino's couture leopard-print gabardine coat looks just as note-perfect today as it did when he designed it in 1966; forty years on, super Gemma Ward could be found clutching a leopard-print bag in the Fall/Winter 2006 Valentino campaign. And leopard isn't the only print in the Valentino menagerie—iconic looks from the archive include mid-1960s ensembles such as zebra-stripe crop top and palazzo pant cocktail combo, a giraffe-print caftan and wide-legged suit (photographed by Henry Clarke for Vogue Italia), and the floor-length sheared wool coat in tiger stripe with matching trousers. His love of animal themes extends to reptiles, too—witness the showstopping 1998 frock in gold lace, with a sequin serpent slithering from shoulder to hem. Just the thing, when you're in the mood for something wild.

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