Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Secret Lives of Colors

Dutch Orange

Take the humble carrot, for example. Originally a tough and rather bitter tuber from South America, prior to the seventeenth century it was usually purple or yellow. Over the next 100 years, however, Dutch farmers selectively bred carrots to produce orange varieties.’ The Dutch flag-today blue, white, and red--was originally striped in blue, white, and orange to match the livery of William I, but, try as they might, no one could find a dye sufficiently colorfast: the orange stripe would either fade to yellow or deepen to red. By the 1660's the Dutch gave up and began using red instead. 
Perhaps the best, if most short-lived, instance of the Netherlanders’ affinity with this fiery hue occurred on July 20, 1673. On that day Dutch soldiers captured the city of New York, marching up Broadway to take it back from the British. In triumph they immediately rechristened the city New Orange, a name it bore for less than 12 months.

Shocking Pink

Known to Winston and Clementine Churchill as “the Imbroglio,” Daisy Fellowes was a very shocking Woman indeed.l Born in Paris in the dog days of the nineteenth century, she was the only daughter of a French aristocrat and Isabelle-Blanche Singer, the sewing machine heiress. In the 1920's and ’30s she was a notorious, transatlantic bad girl: dosing her ballet teacher with cocaine, editing the French Harper’s Bazaar, carrying on a succession of high-profile affairs, and throwing parties to which she only invited pairs of mortal enemies. She was, according to an artist acquaintance, “the beautiful Madame de Pompadour of the period, dangerous as an albatross”; to Mitchell Owens, a writer for the New York Ema, she was “a Molotov cocktail in a Mainbocher suit.” One of her numerous Vices was shopping, and it was one of her purchases from Cartier that unleashed this scandalous shade of pink onto the world. The bright pink Téte de Bélier (“Ram’s Head”), a 17.47-carat diamond, had once belonged to Russian royalty.’ Fellowes wore it one day when meeting one of her favorite designers, the inventive, surrealist couturier Elsa Schiaparelli (Fellowes was one of the only two women brave enough to wear the infamous high-heel hat designed in collaboration with Salvador Dali. Schiaparelli herself was the other.) It was“ love at first sight. “The color flashed in front of my eyes‘ Schiaparelli later wrote. “Bright, impossible, impudent. becoming, life giving, like all the lights and the birds and the fish in the world together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West-a shocking color. pure and undiluted.” She immediately incorporated it into the packaging for her first perfume, released in 1937. The bottle, designed by the surrealist painter Leonor Fini was modeled after the voluptuous torso of the actress Mae West, and came in a distinctive hot-pink case. 


 Classical writers described the Celts making themselves blue, either daubing it on before battle or tattooing it directly into the skin. (Tattooed Celtic remains have been found, both in Russia and in 
Britain, although it is impossible to say if woad was the dye used.) It has even been suggested that the word Briton derives from a Celtic one meaning “painted people.” 

It was sometime around the end of the twelfth century, though, that woad’s fortunes began to change. Innovation in the production process resulted in a brighter, stronger color, which attracted the notice of a more luxurious markets“ It also helped that blue, a previously overlooked color, was not part of the sumptuary system that governed which colors people were allowed to wear, so it could be worn openly by anyone. Over the next century, demand for blue clothes began gaining ascendancy over the preeminent red ones. It was also used as an under or over-dye to add to the longevity and to mix other colors, including the famous British Lincoln green and even some scarlets. One Elizabethan wrote: “No color in broadcloth or kersey [woven fabrics, usually woolen] will Well be made to endure without woad.

From around 1230 woad was grown, like madder [page 152], in near-industrial quantities.s This created fierce rivalries between woad and madder merchants. Magdeburg, the center of Germany‘s madder trade frescoes began to depict hell as blue; and in Thuringia. the stained-glass craftsmen to make the devils in the new church windows blue, rather than the traditional red or black, all in an effort to discredit the upstart hue. Such tactics proved futile. Areas that grew the “blue gold”---like Thuringia, Alsace, Normandy-became rich. 

Woad, wrote one contemporary in Languedoc, “hath made that country the happiest and richest in Europe.” When Emperor Charles V captured the French king at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, it was an enormously wealthy woad merchant from Toulouse, Pierre de Berny, who was the guarantor for the eye-watering ransom.  Woad’s demise was by this time in sight, as other indigo-producing plants were discovered, first in India and then in the New World. On April 25, 1577, representatives of the merchants and dyers of the City of London sent a memorandum to the Privy Council, requesting permission to use indigo imported from India to make a cheaper “oryent” blue. “[F]ortie Shillings bestowed in the same, yeldeth as much color as fiftie shillings in woade.


On February 17, 1901, Carlos Casagemas, a Spanish poet and artist, was having drinks with friends in the smart Get new Parisian cafe l’Hippodrome, near Montmartre, When he pulled out a gun and shot himself in the right temple. His friends were distraught, none more so than Pablo Picasso, who had never quite recovered from watching his sister die of diphtheria six years previously. His grief Cast a pall over his works for several years. He abandoned almost the entire palette, except for the one color that could adequately express his grief and loss: blue. 

This isn’t the first time blue has helped people express matters of the spirit. When, at the end of the Second World War, the UN was formed to maintain global peace, they chose for their symbol a map of the world cupped by a pair of olive branches on a slightly grayish cerulean ground. Oliver Lundquist, the architect and designer who created the insignia, chose this shade because it is “the opposite of red, the war color.” 

It is spiritual as well as peaceful. Many Hindu gods, including Krishna, Shiva, and Rama, are depicted with skin the color of the sky, symbolizing their affinity with the infinite. The French call it bleu celeste, heavenly blue. 

It is also, confusingly, the color many of the buildings at the Church of Scientology’s Gold Base in California“ including the mansion awaiting the reincarnation of the religion’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. (The man himself. When founding Scientology, is reported to have told a 
colleague, “Let’s sell these people a piece of sky blue. ) Pantone named its paler, forget-me-not shade as the d color of the millennium, guessing that consumers would “be seeking inner peace and spiritual fulfillment in the new millennium.”

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