Flowers are practically a proverb when it comes to beauty, art design, and yes, even tattoos. Just look at the classic Gucci scarf, emblazoned with a pattern of stylish plants and petals, which has become a mainstay to the brand.
It’s historic. It was Italian artist Vittorio Accornero who designed Gucci’s historical Flora print scarf in the 1960s, and that same vintage pattern is available for sale in the brand’s stores today. He signed many of his scarf patterns with his signature, “V. Accornero.”
This scarf was inspired by Princess Grace Kelly, who hurried into a Gucci shop in the 1960s, looking for a floral scarf as a wedding present for a friend. They didn’t have one, but once Rodolfo Gucci heard about this, he commissioned Accornero, a popular illustrator to do the job, honoring Kelly, who was Princess of Monaco. Several of these scarf designs were revived in 2002, when Gucci designer Frida Gianni revived the patterns onto several items, from bags to shoes.
But beyond your typical red rose, flower tattoos are seeing a renaissance this fall—and it isn’t just because Jared Leto wore a Gucci scarf-inspired look to the Vogue World runway show at New York Fashion Week.
That means everything from sunflowers to blue roses, daffodils, lilies, and lavender are popular in colorful ink. In fact, old botanical illustrations we see in the 18th century-inspired Gucci scarf are core to the inspiration of one tattoo artist, who specializes in inking botanical-inspired tattoos.
“Flowers are beauty itself,” said Dong-hwa Kim, a tattoo artist and expert on the topic.
She culls inspiration from art history, like the Renaissance and Impressionism periods, giving each one an elevated high-art edge. Kim refers to old botanical illustrations from the 18th century as inspiration for her tattoos.
These scientific designs were the pre-photographic way to document plant life. Today, these botanic illustrations are appreciated for their classic, old-fashioned shapes.
“I always refer to old plant illustrations when I design,” said Kim. “The curves and vintage colors of nature are so impressive and are essentially timeless. And who does it better than Gucci?”
The first botanical illustration book traces back to Greek botanist, Pedanius Dioscorides, who published a book called De Materia Medica. But later, in the 18th century, it was a specific job, and German artist Maria Sibylla Merian was a leader in her field, painting natural history paintings of plants and insects.
Another highly regarded botanic illustrator was Pierre-Joseph Redouté, a royal flower painter hired by Marie Antoinette, who painted the classic French rose.
Among the other botanic illustrative artists, Franz and Ferdinand Bauer were part of the golden age of natural history illustrations, around 1750, to Pierre Jean François Turpin, one of the masters of botanical watercolorists, as well as English artists Anne Pratt and Marianne North.
“Flowers are a suitable to be patterned, that’s why the botanical Gucci scarf has stayed in their collections for decades,” said Kim. “It can be a bold, big pattern, or a cute, smaller polka dot-like pattern. Either way, plants and palms are amazing motifs to work with as decorative design.”
Kim has tattooed hundreds of unique flowers on customers over the past several years. She said many people get birth flowers scheduled on their birthday or get tattoos of bouquets, by weaving together the birth flowers of certain family members—it’s like its own kind of special heirloom, and a private code, at that.
“That’s why there’s only one design in the world for that person, and their family,” said Kim. “I get a lot of requests like this, because it’s truly a bespoke 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 passed have come into the spotlight.
Flowers remain a powerful symbol in fashion today, beyond the Gucci scarf. Luxury brands like Jill Scott, Hermes, Christopher Kane, and Fendi have also put botany prints on everything from tailored suits to handbags and ties.
Even smaller brands like Wallis use botanical illustrations for garments like dresses, while brands like Julia Berolzheimer and Bindu are always coming up with new looks inspired by botanical fashion collages.
“It seems like many brands are turning to botanical illustrations, and a variety of approaches by designers take us to a tropical paradise through silk fabrics and kaftans,” 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, maybe it’s a way to stand out.”
As a tattooist, Kim says this fall is all about sunflowers and roses. “Sunflowers symbolize a positive mind and sometimes they represent wealth,” said Kim. I think roses are the queen of flowers. It’s a classic of classic. But I’ve also tattooed peonies, lotus flowers, the iris, chrysanthemum, and cherry blossoms.”
Let’s face it, flowers and botany will never go out of style. That’s why they work as permanent ink. “Flowers have long been a symbol of beauty,” said Kim. “Looking back on classical beauty today has special meaning, it takes us back in time to appreciate beauty in its purest form.”