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The Butterfly Effect: One Trend’s Timeless History

Butterflies have lately been touching down across the cultural landscape, alighting on wallpapers, fabrics and the pages of shelter magazines. These colorful creatures have long fascinated the design world. In the Victorian era, they elicited curiosity and graced the cabinets of stylish parlors.

Papilio Pattern by Harlequin

Papilio Pattern by Harlequin

In the 1960s and 70s, revered Italian architect and designer Carlo Mollino had 316 butterfly images hung along the walls inside his Turin apartment. Just this spring, a very rare pair of 18th century Qianlong vases decorated with butterflies, peonies and chrysanthemums fetched more than 14 million Euros at a Christie’s auction.

Papilio Fabric by Harlequin

Papilio Fabric by Harlequin

The British fabric house Harlequin has taken its own decorative flights of fancy, reminding us how spectacular the butterfly looks inside homes with the release of the brand’s exuberant Papilio print. Part of the Amilizo collection, Papilio features botanically-drawn motifs carefully arranged to appear like a collector’s specimen box. Both a wallcovering and a fabric, Papilio will be on display at the new Style Library showroom opening later this summer at The Merchandise Mart, where the three premium British brands — Harlequin, Sanderson and Zoffany — will be represented.

Asian culture has admired and honored these winged creatures for centuries as symbols of love, longevity and transformation. PAGODA RED has a few sophisticated examples that showcase butterfly motifs on textiles and in carvings as well as pieces which are more suggestive, highlighting their stunning forms.

In a late 19th-century keepsake cabinet, butterfly hardware was used to symbolize love and longevity. An artist from Fujan province adorned each gilt panel with lacquer embedded with chips of mica, a turn-of-the-century technique that plays off the intricacy of the butterfly’s form.

Charm Rings, circa 1900 from PAGODA RED

These silver charm ring were believed to protect the wearer from bad luck and malevolent spirits. Shown on the far left—one of our favorite rings from the collection—features a butterfly with outstretched wings bearing the gift of joy and happiness. Intricately patterned and laden with symbolism, the ring imparts an everyday blessing.

This 19th-century silk jacket features a rich navy blue ground and is elaborately embroidered with flowers and butterflies. Seed stitching accents the peonies, butterflies, and sleeve decoration. Also called the “forbidden stitch,” the technique was so fine and precise that it was said to render the embroiderer blind.

Whether ornate or rustic, colorful or minimal, we’re ready to see the butterfly and its history take off (again) in homes, gardens and fashion.

Interiors images courtesy of Style Library 

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Located in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago, our dynamic 15,000 square-foot gallery is always changing. Storied furniture, fine art and extraordinary objects from around the world are waiting to be discovered. We invite you to experience the spirit of PAGODA RED online or in our gallery.

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