Flowers are practically a proverb when it comes to beauty, art design and yes, even tattoos. Just look at the classic Gucci scarf, decorated with a pattern of stylish plants and petals, which has become a mainstay of the brand.
It’s historic. It was Italian artist Vittorio Accornero who designed Gucci’s historic Flora print scarf in the 1960s, and that same vintage pattern is now available in the brand’s stores. He signed many of his scarf patterns with his signature, “V. Acccornero.”
This scarf is inspired by Princess Grace Kelly, who rushed to a Gucci store in the 1960s in search of a floral scarf as a wedding gift for a friend. They didn’t have one, but when Rodolfo Gucci learned of this, he commissioned Accornero, a popular illustrator, to do the work, in honor of Kelly, who was Princess of Monaco. Several of these scarf designs were revived in 2002, when Gucci designer Frida Gianni breathed new life into the patterns on various items, from bags to shoes.
But in addition to your typical red rose, flower tattoos are seeing a renaissance this fall — and it’s not just because Jared Leto sported a Gucci scarf-inspired look at Vogue World’s runway show during New York Fashion Week.
That means everything from sunflowers to blue roses, daffodils, lilies and lavender is popular in colorful ink. In fact, old botanical illustrations we see in the 18e century-inspired Gucci scarf is at the heart of a tattoo artist’s inspiration, who specializes in coloring botanically inspired tattoos.
“Flowers are beauty themselves,” says Dong-hwa Kim, a tattoo artist and expert in the field.
She takes inspiration from art history, such as the Renaissance and Impressionism, and gives each of them a heightened high-art edge. Kim refers to old botanical illustrations from the 18e century as the inspiration for her tattoos.
These scientific designs were the pre-photographic way of documenting plant life. Today, these botanical illustrations are valued for their classic, old-fashioned shapes.
“I always refer to old plant illustrations when I design,” Kim says. “The curves and vintage colors of nature are so impressive and essentially timeless. And who does it better than Gucci?”
The first botanical illustration book goes back to the Greek botanist Pedanius Dioscorides, who published a book called The Materia Medica. But later, in the 18th century, it was a specific task, and the German artist Maria Sibylla Merian was a leader in her field, painting natural history paintings of plants and insects.
Another highly regarded botanical illustrator was Pierre-Joseph Redouté, a royal floral painter hired by Marie Antoinette, who painted the classic French rose.
Among the other botanical illustrative artists, Franz and Ferdinand Bauer were part of the golden age of natural history illustrations, around 1750, for Pierre Jean François Turpin, one of the masters of botanical watercolorists, as well as the English artists Anne Pratt and Marianne North.
“Flowers are suitable for patterning, which is why the botanical Gucci scarf has been in their collections for decades,” Kim said. “It can be a bold, large pattern, or a cute, smaller polka dot-like pattern. Either way, plants and palms are great motifs to work with as a decorative design.”
Kim has tattooed hundreds of unique flowers on clients over the years. She said that many people get birth flowers on their birthdays or get tattoos or bouquets, by weaving together the birth flowers of certain family members – it’s like its own kind of special heirloom and a private code besides.
“That’s why there is only one design in the world for that person and their family,” Kim says. “I get a lot of requests like this because it’s really a custom tattoo designed for that family. It’s incredibly personal.”
The meaning of each flower tattoo ranges from symbolizing one’s birth flower (the flower assigned to one of the twelve months of the calendar year), to honoring those who have succeeded in the limelight.
Flowers remain a powerful symbol in today’s fashion, beyond the Gucci scarf. Luxury brands such as Jill Scott, Hermes, Christopher Kane and Fendi have also put botanical prints on everything from tailored suits to handbags and ties.
Even smaller brands like Wallis use botanical illustrations for garments such as dresses, while brands like Julia Berolzheimer and Bindu are always coming up with new looks inspired by botanical fashion collages.
“It seems that many brands are turning to botanical illustrations, and a variety of designer approaches bring us to a tropical paradise through silk fabrics and caftans,” she said. “I think it comes back to a combination of the desire to pursue classical beauty and the desire to have an individual identity in a diversified world. In a uniformed society, it might be a way to stand out.”
As a tattoo artist, Kim says this fall is all about sunflowers and roses. “Sunflowers symbolize a positive spirit and sometimes they represent wealth,” Kim said. I think roses are the queen of flowers. It is a classic of classic. But I also tattooed peonies, lotus flowers, iris, chrysanthemum and cherry blossoms.”
Let’s face it, flowers and botany will never go out of style. Therefore, they work as permanent ink. “Flowers have long been a symbol of beauty,” Kim says. “Looking back on classic beauty has a special meaning today. It takes us back in time to appreciate beauty in its purest form.”