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Karl Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette eats from silver Goyard dishes, has a collection of custom-made Louis Vuitton bags, and is attended by a bodyguard and two “ladies-in-waiting”. The pampered mog, with her 42,000 followers on Twitter, magazine covers and upcoming make-up line with Shu Uemura (yes, really) now has a book devoted to her and a collection of accessories created in her name. Monster Choupette (for people, rather than cats), will be available in November from the Karl Lagerfeld website. To followers of fashion, Choupette is the furry face of an emerging trend. Cats are in the ascendant, style-wise.
Joining Choupette in the publishers’ catalogues this autumn are Parisian Cats (Flammarion), Cat Lady Chic (Abrams Image), both out now, andHollywood Cats (Antique Collectors Club), published on October 29. Fashion collections that have featured cat prints in the past year include Miu Miu spring/summer 2014 (cat coats, boots and dresses), Vivienne Westwood autumn/winter 2014 (kitten T-shirts and sweats) and Ashley Williams autumn/winter 2014 (cat knits and jeans).
Instagram, too, is purring with fashionable cats, from the shaggy-haired “Miu Miu”, owned by British Vogue’s fashion editor Francesca Burns, and model-musician Karen Elson’s litter, who pose regularly with her in photos, to Taylor Swift’s two cats, Meredith Grey and Olivia Benson, named after characters from her favourite TV shows. Some Instagram cats (or #CatsOfInstagram), like Choupette, have their own dedicated profiles.
It’s a furry world. But forgetting for a moment that Lagerfeld’s word is gospel on such matters, dare we ask: “Why?”
Hanna Hanra, the 33-year-old editor and founder of fashion and music magazine The Beat, has two cats, Maggie and Reena. She sees the cat situation as a coming-of-age story for a certain generation of young women, like herself, who have yet to have a family, but are craving something to come home to. “A cat is something to look after,” she says. “It’s cute and fluffy – and you can leave it and go out without worrying too much.”
Despite the recent intensification of the relationship between cats (big and small) and fashion, there is a longstanding link. Luisa Casati, the extravagant socialite of the 1910s, liked to turn up to parties with two pet cheetahs; jewellery house Cartier has been using the panther as a motif since 1914; and René Gruau produced his irresistibly slinky cat illustration for Christian Dior (to advertise tights) as early as 1960.
In more recent years, cats have appeared in campaigns for brands including Gucci (in a gloriously silly Mario Testino shoot for spring 2000), Lanvin (autumn/winter 2009) and Bulgari (which draped a naked Julianne Moore with lion cubs in 2010). Miuccia Prada has regularly returned to cat motifs for her Miu Miu line (even the name resembles a cat noise), while other longstanding cat fanatics in the fashion world include Jason Wu (who used his cats Jinxy and Peaches as his main inspiration for his 2012 line with Target) and American Vogue’s creative director Grace Coddington (who released her own epistolary novel based on the adventures of her cats, The Catwalk Cats, in 2006).
The other, and newer, element of this is the rise of the cat meme. Ten years ago it might have seemed a bit childish to post pictures of your cat online, but now it marks you out as a bona fide digital native.
“It is quite in vogue to love animals,” says Lauren Pears, owner of Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, London’s first (and oversubscribed) cat café, which opened in March in Bethnal Green, east London. “Having internet celebrity cats is a part of that as well.”
Fun aside, there’s also a more mercenary motivation for posting pictures of cats, talking about cats and putting out cat products: it gets you attention. Research published in May by the social network for pet pictures, Klooff, suggests that online posts about cats get 2.3 times more shares than those about dogs.
They’re profitable, too. Such is the power of Grumpy Cat, whose “Original Grumpy Cat” YouTube video has had more than 16m views, that she is starring in her own film, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, out in November.
Feline fans may also be taken with Puss Puss, a new, cat-themed biannual fashion magazine launched in August by art director and editor Maria Joudina-Robinson. Alongside portraits of chic cat owners and a fashion story starring model Anja Konstantinova (another cat Instagrammer), the magazine also features an interview with Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei (who habitually has more than 30 cats roaming around his studio).
So there you have it: cats are lowbrow, highbrow, fun and chic. They’re the essential fashion accessory for 2014. Especially if you want to give good Instagram. You should probably get one. But, take note, this is not a rehash of the Louis Vuitton/chihuahua trend of the 2000s. As Joudina-Robinson puts it: “I don’t see anyone trying to take a cat with them in a handbag – good luck to them!”