Is This Victorian Floral Print the New Millennial Pink?
It started with a search for wallpaper. When the novelty of “working from bed” began to wane three months into quarantine, and the incessant ache in my lower back settled in, I figured that an update to my dreary “home office” (a desk, a bookshelf), may lure me toward a more upright posture.
Thanks in no small part to the movie posters for Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I became fixated on chaotic floral-printed wallpaper, something moody and Victorian and almost suffocating in its busyness — something to lose my thoughts in, like the rough drywall on the ceiling of my childhood bedroom, which contained, if you stared for long enough, whole communities of unique faces and animals and extraterrestrial in-betweens.
Eventually, I found Morris & Co’s fanciful Pimpernel print, a repetitive block of two pimpernel flowers in profile, swirling around each other in a chaste dance. I right-clicked to open the peel-and-stick wallpaper link in one tab, before beginning the ritualistic journey down the rabbit hole in search of a few more kaleidoscopic floral options. About 30 tabs later, I realized that the prints — whether sold on Etsy, Society 6, or Wallpaper Direct — were all by Morris & Co, and most dated back to before the turn of the 20th century.
Soon I began to see the pattern everywhere. In addition to I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a spokesperson for the brand confirmed that their wallpapers have been featured in The Queen’s Gambit, The Undoing, and Love & Anarchy, but fans have also spotted it in Sex Education, Enola Holmes, Phantom Thread, Riverdale, My Fair Lady, and countless other shows and movies. There's even a Twitter account dedicated to spotting Morris & Co prints on screen — and they're not all period pieces, where'd you expect such a vintage style; one fan spotted a Bachelor, Australia contestant wearing the Pimpernel print on a button-down shirt. I’ve seen the patterns online, too, stamped on every vessel you could dream of: duvet covers, pillows, puzzles, phone cases, mugs — you name it, someone on the internet has made it. Author Kristin Ross even featured the Pimpernel print on the cover of her book, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune.
Morris & Co prints “speak to the drama of nature, the beauty of form and the eternal attraction of beautifully worked patterns,” the spokesperson for the brand tells InStyle. “It also shows that there is a real appetite for authenticity today; people want an ‘archive feel’ to their interior look.”
The brand’s namesake, William Morris, was to the 19th century what Rihanna is to the 21st. That is to say, he did a little bit of everything, and he did it all really well. He was not just a textile designer, but a novelist, poet, and politician, and 124 years after his death, his legacy is as popular as ever: the spokesperson added that “all sectors [at Morris & Co] are up significantly” in 2020.
“William Morris and the first designers at Morris & Co occupied a pivotal cultural moment,” they continue. “They stood at the juncture between an increasingly industrialized world and the decline in importance of the countryside and its ancient traditions. Their early works, which are rightly now called artworks, speak as a voice from a lost English pastoral, and when we think about the environmental threats of our own time, the parallels are clear.” Morris and his designers tended to use “outdated” techniques to create the patterns, an appeal to the handmade and artisanal ethos of the British Arts and Crafts movement of which they were a part.
A few weeks after my wallpaper binge, I received an email: Shoe designer Sarah Flint, best known for her demure stilettos, like the nude style favored by Meghan Markle, had collaborated with William Morris. Yes, you can now even find William Morris patterns on designer shoes.
"I've always admired Morris & Co's intricate patterns and designs,” Sarah Flint, founder and director of her eponymous label, said in a press release. “The company’s iconic printed wallpaper is hung throughout my home, in the Sarah Flint office, and was used at my first ever pop-up shop in New York City last year. The end result is elegant, sophisticated, and timeless with a touch of whimsy!”
Such is the versatility of the Morris & Co prints, however, that where Flint sees Mary Poppins, I see a gothic Alice and Wonderland. To me, William Morris prints — Pimpernel and Blackthorn among them — provide comfort in these times of solitude, as we simultaneously complete our lycanthropic transformation from fully functioning humans to sleepy indoor cats. They provide a hint of nature, a hint of color, and, to put it bluntly, something endlessly more interesting than the blank white walls of our urban apartments that, pre-pandemic, we left untouched, clutching tightly to our security deposits.
The saccharine colors and hopeful blooms are so predictably romantic as to be almost banal, and perhaps that is part of their punk rock charm. In 2017, Jonathan Anderson of Loewe took the Acanthus and Strawberry Thief prints to their punk rock extremes, working with the textiles on Morris & Co’s first high fashion collaboration. (In addition to Sarah Flint and Loewe, the brand also collaborated with H&M.) Anderson dressed up casual staples like puffer jackets, hoodies, and bucket bags with the dark prints, and styled them with dayglo orange mohawk spikes.
While Morris & Co is the one true original, you may notice tangled vines, botanical prints, and flourishing florals creeping into your consciousness, the way millennial pink did back in 2016. Our own InStyle illustrator whipped up a similarly romantic floral print for a recent package. But keep an eye out for Morris & Co. Once you look for it, you’ll find it everywhere.