Fashion in the Natural World: Fusing Science with Art

by Grace Costantino

This post first appeared on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog in February 2016.

Emile-Allain Séguy was a popular French designer throughout the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements of the 1920s. Often confused with the French entomologist Eugene Séguy who was active during the same time period, E.A. Séguy designed primarily patterns and textiles and was heavily influenced by the natural world. He was particularly fond of the intricate patterns and beauty of insects (Eugene would have approved), which he saw as “mechanic wonders” that provided abundant inspiration for interior design (Schiff, 157).


Séguy, Emile-Allain. Papillons. 1925. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48852979.


In 1920, the American textile manufacturer F. Schumacher and Co. commissioned the work Papillons, (now digitized and available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library) which was to include stunning compositions of butterflies intended for use as wallpaper, textiles, and other interior and fashion design purposes. Referring to scientific illustrations for reference, Séguy reproduced 81 butterflies within 16 compositions, as well as four additional plates of decorative patterns inspired by butterfly wings, using the pochoir technique. The pochoir technique is based on an ancient method that uses stencils for color application. A costly and labor-intensive technique, pochoir was especially popular in Paris in the 1920s. Each color in a design has its own stencil and layers of gouache or other pigments are applied through each stencil by hand with a brush or sponge. The result is an intense and accurate representation of the colors intended for each composition (Schiff, 157).


Séguy, Emile-Allain. Papillons. 1925. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48852961.


Though the butterflies and plates are ultimately meant for design applications, Séguy emphasized his use of scientific illustrations to inspire his art and included a table of scientific names within Papillons identifying the species depicted in each plate and its place of origin. The work includes species from across the globe (Schiff, 158).


Séguy, Emile-Allain. Papillons. 1925. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/48852957.


Séguy’s designs were reproduced extensively in textiles, wallpapers, and other decorative applications for nearly a century. You can view all of the plates from this work on the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Flickr page.


This post is derived from the article:
Schiff, Stacy J. (2012). Fashion in the Natural World. In T. Baione (Ed.), Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library (pp. 157-159). New York: Sterling Publishing.

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