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The Gucci Flora Scarf – From Princess Grace to Botticelli’s Masterpieces

The Gucci Flora Scarf – From Princess Grace to Botticelli’s Masterpieces

Florals in spring – ground-breaking. But let’s talk about one of the most famous scarf designs – it is Gucci’s “Flora”. It is one of these perfect examples where we think it is a simple design – some flowers and insects but there is actually much more behind it. We will even venture into art history today and look at two very famous Renaissance paintings which served as a source of inspiration for this design. Would you have believed that? I was also quite surprised when I first learned about this fact. Now let’s take a look at this beautiful pattern.

You can also watch my video here:

If you have seen “House of Gucci“, you may remember one amusing scene – Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons) dismisses the work of his nephew Paolo (Jared Leto) who tries to talk his uncle into using some of his designs for Gucci. Paolo picks up a floral scarf and asks “You designed this scarf, correct?”. “Oh, yes. That scarf is my signature. It has caressed the necks of all the world’s beauties. Jackie O, Grace, Sofia. Study it closely. No browns, no pastels,”[1] was Rodolfo’s answer and dismissal of Paolo’s work which involved a lot of brown and pastel tones. After Rodolfo leaves the room, Paolo throws the scarf on the ground and urinates on it. While amusing, this scene was made up by the screenwriters for the movie. What is also only half-true is that Rodolfo designed it. While he was the one who came up with the idea for a scarf, the design was brought to life by Vittorio Accornero de Testa. But what is true is the significance of the so-called “Flora” scarf for the Gucci brand. It not only is one of the most iconic designs of the house, it is also linked to a very famous fashion icon.[2]

The Gucci Flora Scarf From Princess Grace to Botticellis Masterpieces Scarf
The Gucci Flora scarf was created almost by accident when Princess Grace of Monaco visited the Gucci store in Milan; Picture Source: Private Collection.

In 1966, Princess Grace of Monaco visited the Gucci store at Via Montenapoleone in Milan. At the time, Gucci had become a favourite among the international jet set. Rodolfo Gucci, the son of the founder of Gucci, Guccio Gucci, wanted to give her a gift and asked her what she would prefer. When she answered that she would appreciate a scarf, Rodolfo could not offer her any, as Gucci back then did not produce many scarves. But he covered it up and asked her which type of scarf she would like and when she answered that she would like flowers, he claimed it was a lucky coincidence, Gucci had just been working on such a scarf and would send it to her once it is finished. Meanwhile, he gave her one of Gucci’s then very popular bamboo bags.[3] 

The result was the “Flora”-scarf, Rodolfo’s “explosion of flowers”[4] was brought to life by Italian artist Vittorio Accornero de Testa who collaborated with Gucci from the 1960s onwards on scarf designs. An interesting detail is that this was not the first princess Accornero de Testa “worked with” – he had been illustrating children’s books including fairy tales and he also created costumes for sets for theatre, opera and ballet performances. Fiorio, a silk company which is still operating as part of the Canepa group, managed to print in about than 40 different colours without bleeding. The design is a beautiful floral composition with insects such as a butterfly and a grasshopper.[5] 

The Gucci Flora Scarf From Princess Grace to Botticellis Masterpieces Signature Vittorio Accornero
Vittorio Accornero de Testa’s signature on the Flora scarf he designed; Picture Source: Private Collection.

Furthermore, the design and its name are a tribute to Florence, the hometown of Gucci. It refers to two paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. The first one is “Primavera”, “Spring” from c. 1480 which is in the Uffizi museum in Florence. This is a painting where many art historians have different views but it depicts figures from classical mythology – six women and two men and cupid. In the centre, is Venus, the woman with a red cape, who looks directly at the viewer. Above her is Cupid and the trees behind her form an arch. On the left of the painting there are three females dancing – the Three Graces, minor goddesses with the same virtues as the main protagonist Venus and next to them on the left is Mercury with a sword and his attributes the helmet, the winged sandals and the caduceus, pointed up touching the clouds. Remember what I said in my video about the Oscar gowns, an attribute in the arts is a detail which identifies figures from mythology, Saints or famous people. At the far right, the wind god Zephyrus kidnaps the nymph Chloris and later marries her and turns her into a deity – Flora. This transformation is indicated in the painting by the rose in Chloris’s mouth. Next to her is a woman who directly looks at the viewer. This is our protagonist – Flora, the goddess of spring and flowers. She scatters flowers (roses) on the ground. What is so special about this painting is not only that many art historians have different theories about it but also that there are 500 identified plants and about 190 flowers of which 130 can be identified.[6]

This painting is closely linked to one you probably all know – Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” from ca. 1485. While both paintings are discussed a lot by art historians “The Birth of Venus” is a bit easier to decode as it refers to one scene of Greek mythology. I am not going to explain all the iconography here, but let’s focus on a few details which are similar to “Primavera”: Again, Venus is in the centre, looking directly at the viewer. We also meet Zephyrus again on the left, presumably with Aura, a wind goddess. On the right we see a woman in a floral dress and what looks like a cloak. She is either one of the Three Graces or an Hora, or Hour, a Greek minor goddess for time or seasons and because of the florals we can assumed that she is the Hora for Spring. We also see the roses again, they are blown in by the wind and also a nod to spring. Hence, the link to “Primavera”.[7] 

Now, how are these two paintings linked to the scarf? First of all, just like in the two paintings, there is a big number of insects and flowers – poppies, iris, tulips, daffodils, there is a water lily, ranunculi, hazel pollen, Martagon lilies, bellflowers, lilies, but there are also rosehips and wild roses where we can clearly see the thorns on the stem.

The cornflowers on the dress of the Hora of Spring in “Birth of Venus” are stylistically very similar to the Gucci scarf.

The latter may be a reference to the paintings where the rose is an important part of the storyline. We can identify some flowers directly – we have the cornflowers on the scarf which are almost identical to the ones on the dress of the Hora of Spring in the “Birth of Venus”. Mostly, it is the style of how the flowers are painted which is very close to the ones on the garments in the paintings. There may be more direct references of the flowers, but it would require me to see the painting in person, as the zoom online only allowed so much.

The Gucci Flora Scarf From Princess Grace to Botticellis Masterpieces Scarf Symmetry
Basic symmetry of the scarf when turned upside down; Picture Source: Private Collection.

What is special is its symmetry, similar to what I mentioned about the design of the Hermès scarves, this scarf also has a special design. There is some basic symmetry – we could say it is a cross or an X. But this does not mean that the symmetry is an absolute one repeating a certain pattern; every part of the design is unique which also makes the production of this scarf more expensive. We could say there is some symmetry in terms of the flowers which I find most obvious when you flip the scarf upside down. On the one hand, there are the ornamental spring flowers which we would find in groomed gardens – tulips, bellflowers across from the daffodils, iris. On the other, there are the wild flowers – corn flowers, poppies across from the rosehips, the wild roses and hollies. It is interesting that the name of the scarf is “Flora” which is the name for the goddess of Spring, but the “flora” depicted also involves early summer flowers like the poppies and even stretches to fall (rosehips and hollies). Therefore, we could even say some kind of symmetry is there in terms of the seasons, one symmetry axis is spring, the other is summer and fall. Furthermore, in terms of the colours there is some symmetry. The blue in the upper center part is mirrored in the lower part; the white water lily has the white lilies opposite. The daffodils in one corner have their counterpart in the yellow tulip and smaller yellow flowers. The pink tulips are mirrored in the pink flowers across, the red poppies and the rosehips and hollies across, and so on and so forth.[8]

Needless to say, many of these flowers may be seen as allegories which means they have a hidden meaning. The most popular example in this case would be the rose symbolising love. But there are many more flowers with meanings. In the center of the scarf there are orange lilies which may stand for beauty, purity and femininity. Maybe this was a hint at Princess Grace. Even the colour can add meaning – white lilies, for example, stand for purity and rebirth in some cultures, in many European countries it is a flower associated with death. The white water lily on one side may be the Nymphaea ‘Venus’ which would be yet another link to Botticelli’s painting.

The 90-90 cm scarf was hand-delivered to the princess – some interpret it as a gesture: instead of sending a flower bouquet, Gucci delivered a customised flower scarf for the princess who was a big fan of floral designs. The “Flora”-design later became the blueprint of a series of similar models, which was later also used for other accessories such as bags, shoes or jewellery but also clothes. This pattern became so important for Gucci not only because people liked it but also because it was a move beyond Gucci’s equestrian designs.[9] 

The Flora pattern has been reinterpreted many times since its launch, like in this version with an added snake from the Gucci Garden.

Over the decades, the “Flora”-pattern has been reinterpreted several times – printed on top of the Gucci logo pattern, in different coulours and florals in general became an important part of the Gucci DNA. There is also an interpretation of the scarf with a snake from the Gucci Garden.[10]

Caroline of Monace in a Flora blouse for Vogue.

What is also interesting when it comes to the link with Princess Grace is that the Flora pattern spanned across three generations of the family. Her daughter Caroline wore this print on a silk blouse for a Vogue shooting in the 1970s and her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi wore a the Flora scarf for Gucci’s “Forever Now” campaign.[11] 

“Forever Now”-Campaign with Charlotte Casiraghi, Princess Grace’s granddaughter.

Probably the biggest revival of “Flora” was in the early 2000s under creative director Frida Giannini, Tom Ford’s successor who used the pattern for bags. “Flora” turned out to be one of Giannini’s first and biggest successes at Gucci. She also turned it into the “Flora” perfume in 2010.[12]

Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia Campaign with Miley Cyrus.

Her successor, Alessandro Michele paid tribute to the this perfume and the original pattern when Gucci launched Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia in 2021. At the occasion of Gucci’s 100th birthday, singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus was the face of the campaign for this perfume in a bottle commemorating the pattern created for Princess Grace.[13]

Gucci Cruise Collection 2017 reinterpreting the Flora motif.

Michele reinterpreted the pattern multiple times – for example for his Cruise Collection 2017. In general, Michele embraced this floral side of Gucci a lot and kept incorporating flora & fauna motifs into his designs – for example for Spring/Summer 2016, Fall/Winter 2017 or his Cruise Collection 2019. He also dedicated his first perfume for Gucci to florals – Gucci Bloom in 2017.

The Flora motif went beyond fashion, it was the source of inspiration for a garden submitted by Gucci under Frida Giannini in the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show in London which won an award – and at the same time promoted “Flora”-designs. Furthermore, under Giannini as well Gucci developed an exhibition called “Flora Icon” which travelled globally and involved not only the “Flora” scarf but also Accornero’s sketches and further garments and accessories with the pattern from the Gucci Museum in Florence. Alessandro Michele commemorated the pattern and love for flora and fauna in the “Gucci Garden” inside the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia, which housed the Gucci Museum and was redesigned under Alessandro Michele in Florence where one room is dedicated to interpretations of flora and fauna and the “Flora” pattern.[14]

Footnotes

[1] IMDB 2024.

[2] ibid.

[3] Another Magazine 2024, Sara Gay Forden 2001, p. 30-38.

[4] Sara Gay Forden 2001, p. 37.

[5] Another Magazine 2024, Luxury Bocconi Student Society 2024, Sara Gay Forden 2001, p. 30-38.

[6] Le Gallerie degli Uffici 2024b.

[7] Le Gallerie degli Uffici 2024a.

[8] Author and Luxury Bocconi Student Society 2024.

[9] Another Magazine 2024, Luxury Bocconi Student Society 2024, Sara Gay Forden 2001, p. 30-38.

[10] Grace Influential 2024.

[11] ibid.

[12] Luxury Bocconi Student Society 2024.

[13] L’Officiel Malaysia 2024.

[14] Another Magazine 2024, British Vogue 2024, Grace Influential 2024, Gucci 2024.


Sources

Another Magazine, How Grace Kelly Was Behind One of Gucci’s Most Memorable Prints, published on 27 July 2018, published on 28 April 2014, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

British Vogue, Gucci’s Garden, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

Grace Influential, Muse to the House of Gucci, published on 7 December 2021, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

Gucci, Gucci Garden, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

Harper’s Bazaar Germany, Alessandro Michele präsentiert seinen ersten Duft „Gucci Bloom“ in Guccis geheimem Garten, published on 19 July 2017, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

IMDB, Characters: Jeremy Irons: Rodolfo Gucci, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

Le Galliere degli Uffici, Artworks, Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli (Firenze 1445 – 1510), last accessed on 13 May 2024.

Le Galliere degli Uffici, Artworks, Spring, Sandro Botticelli (Firenze 1445 – 1510), last accessed on 13 May 2024.

See Also
Lagerfeld and I - What I Learned from My Research about the Fashion Designer

Leparfumier.com, Gucci Flora, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

L’Officiel Malaysia, Alessandro Michele gives Gucci Flora Gorgeous Gardenia a new spin, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

Luxury Bocconi Student Society, Gucci, the fairytale behind the iconic “Flora” silk scarf, published on 30 April 2022, last accessed on 13 May 2024.

Sara Gay Forden, House of Gucci, 2001, New York.


Picture Source Title Image

Private Collection.


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