Founded in 1869, the American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s largest and most celebrated scientific and cultural institutions. Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and spanning over 1,600,000 square feet, the museum has grown into 27 interconnected buildings housing a planetarium, a library and 45 permanent exhibition halls. Lord & Taylor is the proud sponsor of one of the most popular annual seasonal exhibitions, and arguably the most beautiful: the Butterfly Conservatory. The annual event runs from October to the end of May, and features up to 500 free flying tropical butterflies.
The butterfly has long been a source of inspiration, a symbol of spring and a vivid reminder of the passing of time. Academics regard them for their mimicry, polymorphism, and aposematism, but in everyday life they are known for their lurid beauty and grace. Sadly, these charming creatures spend the majority of their short lives in migration, on a journey that they will only take once, to a place so very far away. But the fleeting butterfly is a stunning natural beauty, and a perfect source of inspiration for fashion designers. Vivid, patterned, and individually unique, these gorgeous winged insects have been the source of many patterns and palettes. From season-to-season, butterfly-inspired fashion does not disappoint.
The albeit brief but brilliant life of this charmed and fabled creature has given rise to some of the most colorful and mesmerizing designs in fashion. Most notably, Alexander McQueen began experimenting with ideas of the butterfly as a motif years ago, and the trend has been carried on by his brilliant successor Sarah Burton. Now a hallmark of the brand, the McQueen Monarch-inspired ornamentation has become a mainstay of the storied house. McQueen was not the only one to gain inspiration from the butterfly as we’ve seen designers including Giambattista Valli, Carlos Miele, Loewe and myriad others borrow from the butterfly’s aesthetic. The butterfly has also taken center stage in scores of editorial spreads, as its spectacular coloration, distinctive patterning and delicate wings lend themselves perfectly to photography.
Another fashion category that is truly indebted to the butterfly is jewelry. Everything from pendants and earrings, to rings and bracelets, accessories have borne the butterfly’s distinctive shape. Tiffany & Co. has even gone so far as to make the butterfly motif a mainstay in their permanent collection. The delicate lines of a butterfly effortlessly lend themselves to these precious items.
At most, butterflies live for a bit less than a year, but they manage to inspire and touch so many of us during their short time. Even the Greeks were beguiled by these brilliant beings, as is evidenced in the Ancient Greek word for butterfly “psȳchē” which means “soul” or “mind.” Though there are only a few times a year when these enchanting creatures come out of their shells, we will always have butterfly-inspired fashion to tide us over.