Avenir Museum Collection Feature: Butterfly Dress

A mannequin with a multi-colored dress

Story by Megan Osborne

A colorful short dress with short sleeves on a mannequin

This garment is affectionately known as “the butterfly dress,” and was designed in the 1960s by fashion designer Mr. Blackwell. The bold graphic yet whimsical print of the fabric disguises a fun construction detail. At first glance the design of this dress appears to be rather simple. Upon further inspection, there are two hidden in-seam pockets sewn into the front of the dress just below hip level. The casual observer may not notice them which makes their inclusion in the design a special secret for the wearer.

Mr. Blackwell, the visionary designer

Mr. Blackwell often thought several steps ahead of the industry.  Including pockets in a day dress while not interrupting the design lines is just one example of his forward-thinking design aesthetic. The tie at the neck floats down from the collar mimicking the flutter of a butterfly wing. The angular shape of the tie contrasts with the curvilinear lines of the print reinforcing the bold design lines of the dress.

Colorful butterflies adorn this dress detail

Mr. Blackwell’s relationship with Colorado State University began in 1989 when he learned of a large donation of his design work to the University. Over the years, Mr. Blackwell and his partner Robert L. Spencer alongside many other donors added to CSU’s collection of Blackwell originals. This collection now numbers over 250 garments.

The Avenir Museum is also home to Mr. Blackwell’s extensive business and design archive that chronicles both the artistic and the merchandising aspects of his career.  The collection includes master patterns, marketing ephemera, fashion photographs, pastel drawings, and a series of working fashion sketches.

100th Anniversary

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Richard (Selzer) Blackwell’s birth, the Avenir Museum is proud to honor the legacy of the beloved American designer. The unique exhibition features original Mr. Blackwell garments alongside new creations produced by students inspired by his of-its-time yet timeless aesthetic. Learn how to see Mr. Blackwell’s designs in person, including the Butterfly Dress and more, by visiting the Avenir Museum website.

Mr. Blackwell: Inspiration to Innovation is currently on view at the Avenir Museum, now through December 17, 2022.

Avenir Museum Permanent Collection #2001.556

The Avenir Museum is in the Department of Design and Merchandising, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.