Wild about Animal Prints


by Sandy Waterman

The psychology behind why we love this season's hottest trend and how our fashion sense is dictated by our simian relatives.


This season's new Ridley Collection of luxury designer dresses features a number of elegant new styles in animal print including the stunning Jodie statement maxi dress and the silk chiffon Carmen maxi skirt and matching laura blouse

Without doubt this season’s hottest trend is animal print and fashion pages, catwalks and high streets are teaming with bold leopard spots and zebra stripes. And if you’re looking for a unique take, the 2018 Ridley winter collection features an array of statement silk maxi and midi dresses, sassy silk jumpsuits and maxi skirts in a uniquely evolved animal motifs.

Given all this attention, we decided to explore the psychology behind this trend: why we are gravitating so strongly towards these mammal tributes right now, what this says about us and our inner animal desires. And there’s no better person to help us on this quest than our friend, leading Psychologist, author, Emerita professor at California State University East Bay and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute Dr Loretta G Breuning.


Dr Loretta Graziano Breuning of The Inner Mammal Institute and some of her best selling books


Please tell our readers what the Inner Mammal Institute does and your approach to human psychology.

I set up the Inner Mammal Institute to help people develop control over the powerful chemistry in the brain that we have all inherited from our animal ancestors for survival. By understanding the brain’s operating system, I have developed strategies to promote happy, positive emotions more often. My clinics coach people tackling issues ranging from anxiety to addiction recovery and relationships. As a psychologist, I was never convinced by the prevailing theories of human motivation. We experience happiness with a surge of chemicals in the brain, principally dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin. Understanding how these chemicals worked in early primates allows us to, in effective, make peace with our inner animal. We have the ability to rewire ourselves to release more of these ‘happy chemicals’ to relieve the effect of converse ‘sad chemicals.’

How does fashion serve our animal desires?

Humans are complex social beings with highly evolved animal brains that are hard wired to make us want to stand out but also to blend in. Our desire to stand out is seen by the animal brain as essential for attracting the best mate and reproductive success, whilst our inclination to blend in is just as vital for protection from predators. So we are always looking for ways to feel special and unique whilst feeling safe in numbers. When we accomplish these states our brain releases positive oxytocin chemicals generating positive feelings and confidence. But these two competing urges can often lead to feelings of internal conflict and stress. Fashion is one way to bridge both these urges and help us to stimulate these happy feelings over and over again.

Do you believe the current desire for animal print is merely part of a commercial fashion cycle or is this being driven by some deeper primal desires and reactions to current context?

There may be several reasons that animal prints are hot this season, perhaps including a primal desire to reflect the changing role of women in society, particularly prints of animals associated with strength. This statement serves our urge to stand out but the use of design to reflect animal skins also suggests an element of camouflage, an urge to blend in for protection, which we share with the animal kingdom. I also think that designers can find inspiration in nature and generating a direct link with the environment and greater environmental awareness is definitely positive. However one can’t overlook the fashion cycle. Animal print hasn’t been around for a while and when adopted by the cool vintage wearing hipster generation suddenly becomes elevated to a must have status symbol. In other words, our animal desire to both fit in and stand out is encouraging us to mimic the established fashion leaders we admire.  


The new Ridley London Emma coat is individually tailored in London from a variety of fabrics including this unusual bi-colour leopard print faux fur

What do you feel about fashion? What sort of clothes do you like wearing and how does this relate to your inner mammal?

Personally I don’t like the feeling of tight clothing because it makes me feel tense all day and I go to great lengths to avoid friction tension and constriction tension. I love comfortable clothing which fits well. Individually tailored garments in luxurious natural fabrics like the beautiful silk maxi dresses and jumpsuits you produce are incredibly positive. They highlight what I view as my assets and I feel confidence which frees my mind to think about who I’m with or what I’m doing rather than worrying about how I look or feeling uncomfortable.

Ridley clothing is directly inspired by fashion and then individually tailored to enhance each unique customer. How do you feel about this offer? And how do you think this approach resonates with our inner mammals?

Fashion is about belonging but at the same time elevating oneself. What really interests me about your Ridley clothing and approach is that by producing fashion that is individual, we can restrain our impulse for social comparison while still feeling secure. This promotes the idea of prioritising focus on our strengths versus our instinct to that of our weaknesses. This resonates with one of the healthy strategies I suggest in The Inner Mammal Institute.

Ridley London-luxury skirt-animal print-blog-animal psychology

This season or collection of luxury designer dresses also features stylish silk maxi skirts in a variety of unique animal prints. Pairing our animal print Carmen skirt with a solid blouse creates a sophisticated aesthetic with an elongated visual as seen by (top from left) @bricksandstitches in our red leopard Carmen skirt, @thestylistandthewardrobe (bottom) @lifestylebynyriam and @lawsonggg in our new zebra chiffon Carmen Skirt

Many of our readers are busy women juggling successful careers with multiple responsibilities of family and the pressure of modern life. This can often make one feel overwhelmed. Is this reaction connected to our inner mammal states and what can we do to be more effective in managing this?

Firstly, there’s an idea that happiness is the default state and that modern society has ruined it. This is absolutely false. You are responsible for your own happiness. Animals must constantly seek food or safety in numbers. Happy chemicals motivate an investment in energy toward a resource that satisfies a survival need. Just as in animals, our happy chemicals switch off and we must do more to get more. Our brain prioritises distress signals and the media makes this worse, but we have the power to rewire ourselves to redirect our thought loops to stimulate those happy chemicals by seeking different perspectives and making different choices.

With the increasing pace of technological change and the rise of AI, many commenters and authors are talking about the birth of the augmented human. What does this mean for our inner mammals and how can we best adapt for this kind of future?

I get this bio hacking question a lot right now and angst we're experiencing is due to a natural evolutionary response to change. Part of the problem is this idea that by constantly buying into the latest trend you too can attain the perfect life. But a lot of our stress is caused by constantly comparing ourselves to others and focusing on ways to strengthen our weaknesses. This survival strategy of constantly searching for a position of strength is hardwired into our evolutionary psyches and can be seen in the behaviour our closest animal relatives, Monkeys,  constantly jostling for position within a social hierarchy.  When we feel vulnerable our brains release cortisol to restrain ourselves and when we're in a position of strength our brains release serotonin accentuating the feeling of confidence and positivity, which is highly addictive. The key to navigating this fast changing future is to be more aware of and in control these natural instincts and responses and to be able to sensibly evaluate whether new solutions like new technologies really are of benefit to us opposed to constantly trying to keep up with the latest trends. In other words we all need to take more responsibility for ourselves as individuals and this way our collective futures are likely to be better.

Further information about the the points discussed here, consultations, films and books can be found on the Inner Mammal Institute Website. And Dr Breuning's latest books are available to purchase at Amazon.

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