Colour and culture

‘When the fashion industry declares that lime green is the new black, or instructs us to “think pink!,” it is not the result of a backroom deal forged by a secretive cabal of fashion journalists, designers, manufacturers, and the editor of Vogue. It is the latest development of a color revolution that has been unfolding for more than a century.’ Regina Lee Blaszczyk’s The Color Revolution is the history of colour and commerce, a journey through the ways in which colour came to symbolise modernity, as both a demonstrate of technological prowess and inventiveness – DuPont and Monsanto were driving forces in creating ‘new’ colours – and as a means of adorning a rainbow-hued new world of consumer goods, from cars to kitchens. Naturally car companies were amongst the first to realise the marketing possibilities of colour, how new hues transformed existing shapes, driving demand through fashion.

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Colour forecasting is still very much a ‘thing’, with companies like Pantone (a case study for the transformative power of marketing and merchandising) continuing to make a big media spectacle of their ‘colour of the year’ (Emerald Green for 2013, Tangerine Tango for 2012, Honeysuckle for 2011, Turquoise for 2010, Mimosa in 2009, Blue Iris in 2008 and Chilli Pepper in 2007).

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Elsewhere, there are sites like Saturated Space blog, part of the Architectural Association’s ‘colour research cluster’ or this excursion into colour and culture at Empirical Zeal, which links to this experiment: ‘[Researchers] asked native speakers of these 110 different languages, many from remote tribal cultures, to painstakingly name colour of each tile. After tallying up what people said, they could divide these tiles into islands of color, similar to the map of color from before.’ Following that, there are digressions into language, colour and representation: ‘If you have a word to distinguish two colors, does that make you any better at telling them apart?’

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Apologies for the anglo-american spellings. The above image is by Herbert Bayer, entitled Untitled (Color Study), 1978.

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