Thank you to Harriet Potter's Mom Penni Cragg for the beautiful picture of her and a fine example of a Laperm.
The LaPerm is a rex breed which originated in the United States and is now present in many other countries worldwide. The breed is genetically unique and not related to any other rex cat varieties, having a dominant gene causing their curly coats. They have an elegant and athletic build and are affectionate, active and outgoing in character. They are reputed to be hypoallergenic cats, provoking a significantly lower level of allergic response in humans than normal cats. Their most significant feature is their coat, which is made up of soft waves, curls and ringlets, resembling a shaggy perm.
The first LaPerm was born in 1982 and was a spontaneous mutation in an otherwise normal litter of kittens. The breed founders, Linda and Richard Koehl owned a cherry farm in The Dalles, Oregon, and had obtained some farm cats for pest control. One of these was an ordinary brown tabby shorthair called Speedy who gave birth to a litter of kittens which included a rather bald female kitten with tabby markings on her skin. The Koehls were initially concerned about the kitten's appearance but she developed healthily and as she grew she developed a soft curly coat.
The kitten was given the name Curly and was given no special treatment, also working as a farm cat. Another key trait of the breed, the unusually affectionate temperament, was only fully appreciated after a particular incident took place. Curly was injured when she climbed into the warm engine of a pickup truck and was injured by the fan when the engine was started. She survived and became a house cat for a while recovering from her injuries and it was during this time that the Koehls observed her affectionate personality. She became pregnant and gave birth to five kittens which had the same appearance as their mother had at birth. All five were male and grew up to have the same curly or rexed coats. None of the five were neutered and they were allowed to breed freely with the other farm cats.
This resulted in a growing colony of unusual rex cats which included long and short coats. There was a range of colours and patterns including chocolate and colour-points, due to the input of a local cat who had a Siamese mother. When people started commenting on her unusual cats and asking what they were, Linda did some research and realized that she had some kind of rex. She took some cats to a show to ask for feedback and was told by exhibitors, breeders and judges that she had something unique. Several key people in the USA cat fancies gave her their support and the colony was used as the foundation for the breed, which has grown and to become a well-established championship breed around the world.
The LaPerm breed has been linked with Native American culture as the area where the Koehl’s farm is situated is in a sacred territory of the Wishram people, a Chinook speaking tribe who traditionally made a living netting, drying and trading salmon from the Columbia River. The area still contains rock carvings of the vigilant goddess Tsagaglalal. It is because of this that many LaPerm breeders give Native American names to their kittens and decorate their pens with this theme in mind when showing. Careful consideration was given to the naming of the breed; several possible names had already been used or were too clumsy sounding or close to something else so a name was chosen by Linda with the intention of evoking the breed’s most important feature: the curly coat with a resemblance to a shaggy perm. The name follows the Chinookan tradition of adopting French words while incorporating the definite article to create a new word, for example in Chinook Wawa pipe is lapeep and apple is lapom, (la pipe and la pomme respectively in French).
The LaPerm is in many ways a cat of moderation with no extremes and is still true to its original type. It does however have a striking appearance because of its unusual coat. The breed standard describes a muscular foreign-type body, which is medium in size with longish legs and neck. The head is a modified wedge with gently rounded contours and a muzzle which slightly broad of the wedge. In profile the straight nose leads into a gentle break between the eyes up to a flattish forehead. LaPerms also have rather broad noses. Their flared ears are placed to follow the line of the face, while their almond shaped eyes are medium large and expressive.
Like other rexes, all colours and patterns are acceptable, although tabbies, reds and torties are well represented reflecting their origins. Also the unusual colours from the early days of the breed have been selected for, so lilac, chocolate and colour-points are popular. Tabby points are especially attractive. Newer varieties such as ticked tabbies, shaded and darker points are also being bred. The curl tends to open up the coat showing off shading, ticking or silver undercoats.
The coat itself is described as having a unique textured feel. It is not silky, having a certain drag on the hand like mohair and the texture comes as much from the shape of the curls as from the mixture of different hair types. It should be soft and inviting, although the shorthairs will have more texture to their coats. The coat is rather loose and bouncy often feeling springy when patted, and stands away from the body with no thick undercoat. It is light and airy and judges sometimes blow on the coat to see if it will part. The coat varies according to the season and the maturity of the cat but is essentially wavy or curly all over with the longest and most defined curls in the ruff and on the neck often falling in ringlets. There is also longer curly fur inside the ears, tufts at the ear tips and "ear muffs", or longer, silky hair on the backs of the ears. The longhairs have a curly plumed tail while the shorthairs have tails rather like bottle brushes, and both have long curled whiskers. Sometimes the coat falls into a natural parting along the back, jokingly referred to as "the parting of the waves".