THE LATEST BUZZ; In the world of design, dragonflies are flying high.; FOCUS ON STYLE


The butterfly? So last year.

This year's cutting-edge insect is the dragonfly.

You see it embroidered on slim summer sheaths. Bright dragonfly pins sparkle on lapels. Dragonflies flit gracefully on every sort of home furnishings, from sheets to tableware to decorative lamps.

Butterflies are pretty, ladybugs are cute, honey bees work best as folk art. None has the elegance and sophistication of the dragonfly as a design motif, with its slender, elongated body and gauzy double wings.

The dragonfly is merely the latest bug to make it big in a country obsessed with gardening and nature symbols. Once people started thinking of insects as beneficial -- and ordering them live from catalogs to stock their gardens -- is it any wonder they were willing to wear bejeweled insects in their hair?

With the popularity of the movies "Antz" and "A Bug's Life," the rehabilitation of the bug was complete.

Theories abound as to why dragonflies in particular have so captured the imagination of designers and the public. It may be something as simple as the dragonfly pin Kate Winslet wore in "Titanic."

"Its popularity created excitement in the industry," says Irenka Jakubiak, editor-in-chief of the trade publication Accessories. "And it didn't die, because celebrities picked it up. A lot of trends seem to start with them."

One wholesale importer of gifts and accessories sees the dragonfly as a natural substitute for the angels that have been dominant as a motif for several years.

"It's subtle," admits Don Burlich of Los Angeles. "In the market, angels have receded slightly. They've been overdone." The dragonfly, along with Victorian fairies, is a logical secular successor, he says.

The dragonfly is graceful and elegant, but it's also one of nature's most rapacious insects. In half an hour it can eat its own weight in food. And consider its nickname: the devil's darning needle. Superstition has it that dragonflies may sew up the eyes, ears and mouth of a sleeping child. So far no hint of this darker, more mysterious side has shown up in the jewelry and home accessories on gift-shop shelves.

The dragonfly's popularity isn't hurt by the fact that it's a frequent motif in Japanese art. Asian-influenced design can be found everywhere in both fashion and home these days, and the dragonfly's delicate shape has an Eastern feeling to it.

Locally, Margot McClellan, whose gift shop Menagerie in Roland Park is filled with dragonfly items, theorizes that they are so popular at least in part because they are linked to the current interest in alternative medicine.

"Dragonflies symbolize longevity, good health and spiritual well-being," she says, and that's the reason at least one of her customers wanted to surround herself with them.

The dragonfly may run its course as a fashion accessory sooner rather than later -- but then fashion is more fickle than home furnishings. If you love this slender, winged creature, you don't have to worry that it will disappear as a decorative detail in the home anytime soon.

"It will have a long shelf life," says Cindy Sheaffer, editor of the trade magazine Home Accents Today. "We are still seeing [dragonfly-motif objects] being introduced at the trade shows, which means they'll be appearing in the stores in about six months."

Pub Date: 06/27/99

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