Of all the entomological references that creep into the design world, one in particular is spending a day in the field. If it is impossible to miss the butterflies in the women’s fashion collections, from Lanvin to Chanel, the winged insects also invite themselves to the men’s department.
Such motifs have long been celebrated by artists, from Dalí to Damien Hirst, and by fashion houses that revel in a certain flamboyance, such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and – coupled with a touch of macabre avant- trendsetter – Alexander McQueen. Now butterflies are popping up everywhere from Loewe to Burberry, adorning blazers and athletic shorts, watches and jewelry.
“I love the idea of encouraging all men to look a little more like butterflies themselves in their attire – without being afraid of gorgeous colors and prints and luxurious materials,” says the Los-based stylist. Angeles, Andrew Vottero. Her client list includes Jeff Goldblum, who recently walked the Prada catwalk and whose personal style of dress speaks for manly exuberance.
Yes, there’s a nice handy metaphor about cocooning and liberation, but butterflies are also a symbol of dexterity and agility. Richard Mille’s new watch, the RM 35-03 Automatic Rafael Nadal, pays homage to the power and physical prowess of the new Grand Slam men’s tennis record holder. Its distinctive new complication, the titanium “butterfly rotor”, allows the wearer to interact with and control the winding speed of the movement according to their lifestyle and activity level.
Benson & Clegg clutch, £55
Derek Rose Tropez swim shorts 11, £165
Axel Arigato Apex NXT Runner Trainer, £185
Loewe charm in calfskin and metal butterfly pin, £275
Andrew Groves, professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster, says that while camouflage has always been the “acceptable male face of the pattern” because of its military connection, he thinks the “language of technology” and its association with intricate details will seduce even the most sober chest of drawers to indulge in more varied patterns.
“The way men express their identity through what they wear was moving at a much slower pace,” he says. “The colonization of male attire into an everyday uniform has virtually collapsed in the past two years; I think it allowed people of all identities to play with patterns and surface decoration. Many have timed an open window and they will not return.
For Spring, Los Angeles-based designer John Elliott prints his bespoke fabrics with intricate Lepidoptera-like tattoo designs on long sleeves and mesh “workout shorts.” Meanwhile, Japanese brand Needles – which makes leisurewear with a kind of 70s-Tokyo-meets-Americana vibe – uses butterfly emblems on blazers, cowboy shirts, basketball and the Papillon track jacket that stands out this season. In the meantime, Valentino covers the whole range of tastes: a delicate touch – appliqués on cabans and t-shirts – as well as an all-over print on shirts and Bermuda shorts.
Osklen swim shorts, £150, farfetch.com
Christian Dior gold-plated brooch, POA, omneque.com
Vintage gold and malachite pendant, $1,750, 1stdibs.com
Tom Ford Silk Bow Tie, £190
You can be graphic and minimal with Derek Rose’s Tropez 11 swim shorts or the wing-like mesh pattern of Axel Arigato’s Apex NXT runners. Or suave and dressed up with a dark, brooding pin from Van Cleef & Arpels (also check out 1stdibs, Omneque and The RealReal for vintage beauties from Dior, among others). And then there are the exaggerated butterfly-shaped eyeglasses everywhere from Balenciaga to Ray-Ban, and the elongated wings of Tom Ford’s ’70s-style silk bow tie for summer evenings.
For those who doubt that butterflies can be butches: the insects best designed to scare away predators or defend themselves with camouflage are those with the most outrageous decorations. According to Dr. Erica McAlister, Senior Curator of Diptera at the Natural History Museum and author of The secret life of flies, some butterflies fight with color, while the electric blue male morpho, for example, flirts with it. Everything is very macho.
John Elliott University T-Shirt, $168
Negoro H Van Cleef & Arpels clip in white gold, diamonds and mother-of-pearl, POA
Balenciaga Xpander Butterfly sunglasses, €395
Alexander McQueen Brass Butterfly Sneaker Charm, £130
Ultrafly Resort Hyper Viscose Ksubi Shirt, €242, brownsfashion.com
Gucci Embroidered Baseball Cap, $395, therealreal.com
“Men are very fragile creatures, really,” Groves says. The social validation of dressing impactfully has become more important since we’ve had fewer real-life interactions, he says. “Attracting attention with decorative clothing has become playful and competitive, raising adrenaline and testosterone.”
Just as the black peppercorn rose to prominence in the smoky industrial revolution, menswear design is keeping up with the times, he says. “But now you fit in by standing out.”