I scored this vintage Gucci scarf a couple of months ago – love it! I think it is from the 1970’s. Featuring a grid layout of different butterflies, it is a riot of colors and patterns.
It got me to thinking about other great patterns of butterflies on fabrics, wallpapers and in fashion. It is fascinating how often designers have used butterflies in their work, and the symbol has been a popular choice dating back for hundreds of years. It is especially significant in religions around the world, symbolizing transformation, evolution and life. The butterfly is an eternal symbol that finds significance in every era.
Some of the most widely published butterfly art is by E.A. Seguy. Seguy hand painted a book of illustrations called “Papillions” in 1925. It was intended as a visual resource of specimen drawings that were very realistic. In addition to the scientifically accurate illustrations, Seguy included a section of four pages of patterns of butterflies that he created. These were intended for use for fabric and/or wallpaper. The patterns and artwork are stunning in its imagination and use of vibrant colors.
I discovered some amazing images of butterfly wallpapers in the Cooper Hewitt Museum archives. Below are some patterns from a sample book published in 1930 by Arthur Sanderson & Sons, Inc.
Butterflies of course are seen in prints for fashion throughout history – most notably by designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Emilio Pucci, and Vera Neumann. In addition to ladybugs, butterflies were a signature motif for Vera on her scarves, apparel, bedding and table linens.
The master Pietro Fornasetti also incorporated the butterfly in many of his designs. The fabric pattern below combines Fornasetti’s love for trompe l’oeil with butterflies. And Fornasetti also paired a butterfly with one of his most ubiquitous subjects, the face of his opera singer muse Lina Cavalieri.
Designer Matthew Williamson has used butterfly patterns in his fashion, accessories and home collections in several iterations over the years. The patterns created by his studio are really imaginative and each new pattern is unique. They continuously find new ways to play with the possibilities presented by the markings on butterflies, putting them in kaleidoscopic layouts, combining them with marbleized patterns and pairing them with exotic flora and fauna.
Perhaps no other artist of our time is more closely associated with butterflies than Damian Hirst. Hirst famously unveiled a collection of paintings in 2009 that were made up of thousands of butterfly specimens arranged in fantastic kaleidoscope patterns.
In 2013 Hirst collaborated with the Alexander McQueen company to release a collection of limited edition scarves as an homage to the late designer. The collection is amazing – several of the scarves combined butterflies with skull imagery, another signature of both artists.
McQueen has used the butterfly in one of the most successful rugs for The Rug Company as seen below. “Monarch” was introduced several years ago and continues to be a favorite among designers and collectors.
And the Folklore Collection runway show for Spring Summer 2011 was one of its most iconic, with butterflies as the main symbol affixed to dresses and hats.
In recent years, the butterfly has turned up again and again in the home furnishings world on many iconic wallpapers and fabrics.
It seems noteworthy that this symbol of rebirth and transformation finds relevance in every generation. Visually the butterfly is such a great subject because of its endless permutations of pattern markings and color combinations. To me they evoke a romantic and exotic moodiness, they truly are one of nature’s most fascinating creatures.