Like many of the venerable European luxury brands, Gucci’s motifs were once strictly aligned with aristocratic activities, such as equestrian sports and hunting. That all changed in 1966, when Princess Grace of Monaco entered its flagship store in Milan (drawing a crowd, of course) and purchased a green leather purse. When Rodolfo Gucci (Guccio Gucci’s son) learned of this, he offered her a gift to thank her for her support. Modestly, she requested a scarf, but Gucci felt they didn’t have anything befitting of royalty. Princess Grace was known to be a flower afficionado who founded the Garden Club of Monaco and pressed her own flowers as artwork. And so Gucci commissioned illustrator Vittorrio Accornera de Testa to design a unique floral printed scarf for the princess.
Accornera De Testa was familiar with princesses, having spent a large part of his career illustrating children’s books of fairy tales. He had an eye for the fantastical, having also worked as a set designer on Broadway in New York, and in the movies, before returning to his native Italy. He was also known for his beautiful and intricate botanical illustrations and watercolour paintings, especially of flowers.
The result of Gucci’s commission was Flora: a floral pattern on a white background which included 37 vibrant colours and a wide array of flora and fauna, including butterflies and beetles, sprinkled over the silk square. The nine flowers depicted are lilies, ivy, poppies, cornflowers, daffodils, ranunculus, anemones, tulips and irises. The name was a tribute to the origins of the fashion house in the city of Florence as well as to La Primavera and The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli; in both paintings the nymph Flora wears a dress adorned with flowers. Gucci presented the enchanting and elegant scarf to the princess as if giving her a bouquet. The scarf became very popular and is still sought after by collectors today.
Accornera De Testa became Gucci’s top textile designer and went on to contribute at least 77 more prints to the fashion house. The Flora motif went beyond scarves in 1969, with a floral mini dress. Flora was revived in 2005 by then-creative director Frida Giannini, who incorporated it into a line of bags and Gucci’s ready-to-wear. During her tenure, Giannini ensured that the Flora print was present almost everywhere, from emphasizing the print in the 2013 Cruise collection to reinventing it as a fragrance. Forty seven years after Kelly wore the scarf, her granddaughter, Charlotte Casiraghi was featured in a 2014 Gucci ad campaign wearing the print. For spring 2023, the Flora print has been revived again, combined with Gucci’s signature double G-print, for duffel bags and totes, continuing its legacy in defining the aesthetic of the venerable brand. Now all we need to know is how will incoming Gucci creative director Sabato de Sarno incorporate Flora into his designs?