Audrey Hepburn at El Morocco in 1951
Fake zebra stripes seem so obvious we can imagine Adam & Eve leaving the Garden of Eden clad in velveteen animal prints, but there had to be a designer who was the first to say: "Faux Zebra! There's an idea!"
Some credit Elsie de Wolfe in the 1920s and others Vernon MacFarlane, the interior designer who did all the New York nightclubs before and after Prohibition's repeal in 1933.
See the inside of this El Morocco matchbook at the New York Historical Society here:
MacFarlane certainly made faux zebra synonymous with exotic sophistication. His banquettes at El Morocco were upholstered in stripes printed in the obviously fake color scheme of navy blue on white. The story is that the speakeasy was decorated with a minimal hand for reasons of budget and the sloppiness of the clientele. A desert oasis in Northern Africa was chosen as the theme.
Clark Gable and Slim Keith
Celebrities photographed in the booths were instantly identifiable as El Morocco patrons. MacFarlane added fake palm trees and a desert sky of twinkling lights, two other illusions that became classics.
The palm trees seem to have been white.
The leaves were originally of cellophane.
Biographical details about MacFarlane are slim---he wasn't. He was either an Australian or a New Zealander---it all looked the same from New York. His interiors in the 1930s defined celebrity.
Merle Oberon (left) and friends
under a fake palm tree