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st moritz 1929

Tamara de Lempicka – St Moritz, 1929

I have a preference for the rich, dark wine colours and cherry purpley reds. To me, these are cosier and warmer than the vibrant shades of scarlet and ruby, which I tend to associate with violence. In Sanskrit as well as in the Inuit language, the word for red is the same as the word for blood and you can see of course why this is so. In Russian the word for red has the same root as the word for beautiful. Red is indeed the colour of drama and passion and is usually chosen to make a bold statement in fashion and interiors. Yves Saint Laurent once cited red as the colour of ‘love, battle, death, and warmth’.

 Red, the strongest colour on the spectrum, is the one that most attracts attention. It was one of the first colours used by prehistoric people to adorn the walls of caves using readily available natural pigments such as red ochre and iron oxide. Throughout history and across many cultures, red has been produced using either plants like madder or rubia, insects such as kermes or cochineal, minerals like cinnabar producing from brick-red, scarlet and vivid crimson to vermillion hue. Once, carmine was introduced in Europe, following the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus’, it was used extensively by the great painters of the 15th and 16th centuries such as Brueghel the Elder, Vermeer, Rubens, Velázquez and Tintoretto.

 Red is the colour of revolution, socialism and features as a colour on many flags symbolizing sacrifice and courage. It is also the colour of joyful celebration and formal ceremony. A red carpet is always de rigueur to welcome distinguished guests and scarlet academic gowns are worn by new graduates in universities and many other schools. Clerical dress often combines black with red as a mark of status and authority.  Red is the international colour of warning and danger. It was chosen due to its brightness in daytime and because it stands out against any natural or artificial background.

Pale to Medium

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Eileen Cooper, Baby talk, 1985.

Bois de Rose, Apple Blossom, Cadmium Red, Coquelicot, Copper Red, Coral Red, Currant Red, Geranium Red, Ruby, Scarlet, Fire Engine Red, Chinese Red, Peony, Madder Red, Pomegranate Red, Safflower Red, Tomato Red , Corinthian Red, Pompeian Red, Vermillion

Medium to Strong

Nasturtium Red, Crimson Red, Claret Red, Burgundy, Carmine, Brick Red, Rufous, Amaranth, Puce, Maroon, Ruddy, Cherry Red, Beetroot Red, Venetian Red, Turkey Red, Garnet, Blood Red, Tuscan Red.

 In the world of interiors:

When the ancient Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were re-discovered along with many villas in the Campania area in the mid-eighteen century, the arts world became enchanted with the colourful scenes of the frescoes adorning the interiors of the unearthed homes and shops; The love of neo-classical style became instant and Pompeian red was the colour in vogue for smart dining and drawing rooms and is still current nowadays.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum

Art deco interiors favoured solid blocks of colours and geometric patterns. Red was a favourite combined with black and white. It added glamour and vibrancy to a room. The English ceramist Clarice Cliff’s work is bold and her stylish designs are typical of this era. For a true red, try Emperor’s silk by Annie Sloan; For a deep and rich red,  how about bronze red by Little Greene or Kimono by Colourtrend.

Out there Now :

Fashion: The French shoe designer Christian Louboutin whose red-lacquered soles have become his recognizable signature.

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Craft: Emmet Kane’s sculptural pieces.

Design: The iconic chairs by Danish designers : the Egg™chair (1958) by Arne Jacobsen, and the Panton Chair (1965) by Verner Panton.

Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, Charles Perrault’s fairy-tale, first printed in 1697.

In the Natural world

amanitaThe large white-gilled and white-spotted, usually red mushroom Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric. It is native to conifer and deciduous woodlands and can be found in the northern hemisphere.

Mars, the second smallest planet in the solar system is known as the red planet due to the iron oxide prevalent on its surface, which gives it a reddish appearance.

Red hair varies in colour from a bright or burnt orange to a deep burgundy. Only 1 to 2 % of the human population has red hair and it is more common in people of northern or western Europeans.

The red-crest male bird native of North and South America, the cardinal bird, named appropriately after the catholic cardinal’s mitre.

And finally imagine a fruit salad made of strawberries, cranberries, redcurrants, apples and pomegranate!

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Black is the colour

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Isabella Blow wearing Philip Treacy’s lace mask (1992)

Black is not a colour as such but the complete absorption of natural light. Black is associated in the Western world with death, mourning, evil, or magic but also with power, elegance and sophistication.

Throughout history the colour black has had both positive and negative connotations. Black is closely linked with mystery and the unknown and in the 17th century, people strongly believed that the devil appeared in the shape of a black animal in the middle of the night during black Sabbath ceremonies.

It was the emblematic colour of the Puritans and protestants during the Reformation, as black was considered the colour of sobriety and simplicity and chosen to underline the contrast with the luxurious red and purple vestments worn by the Pope and cardinals of the Roman church.

 Black was favoured by the Romantics in the 19th Century as it was the perfect colour to depict their melancholic souls. Black has often been the colour of choice for quite a number of would-be revolutionaries: it was chosen by the 1950s Parisian intellectuals to express their individuality, by the young British mods and rockers of the sixties but also later by punks and goths to show their social discontentment. In the United States, the Black Power movement in the late sixties was borne out of a struggle for political and social equality for African-Americans.

 The black flag of the pirates alone was enough to instill fear in other sailors and ordinary folk as they knew that violent events would unfold as soon as the fierce seamen came near. The authoritative symbolism of black is best exemplified in any of the uniforms of members of the armed or police forces throughout the world.

 In the world of fashion, Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s sense of dress forever with her drawing in the American 1926 Vogue magazine of a simple black dress. A trend was born then as well as a new timeless look. By wearing the colour black, women felt empowered and confident like never before in a world dominated by men in black suits albeit through a different kind of power, that of the seductive force of the femme fatale.

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The great black cow in Lascaux

Black was one of the first pigments to be used by our Prehistoric ancestors where it was employed to draw representations of animals or humans almost twenty thousand years ago. Charcoal, burnt bones and manganese oxide were used to produce black to a stunning effect as can be seen in the Lascaux and Niaux caves in the South of France.

 Black was one of the most prominent colours used by ancient Greek artists and potters to create magnificent ceramics. They developed an original firing technique to produce a glossy black. Black ink was produced in Ancient China by using plant dyes or minerals such as graphite which were ground down  and mixed with water. Burnt bones, tar and pitch have been employed in India since at least the 4th century BC as it was common practice to write with ink using a sharp pointed needle. Another historical ink from Ancient Rome was created from salts mixed with tannin extracted from gallnuts. This specific ink was bluish-black but turned to a dull brown as it faded.

 In Medieval times, scribes wrote mainly on parchment or vellum paper and one of the inks they used was derived from a hawthorn bark, wine and iron salt recipe. Obtaining a good quality black pigment was essential for the printing industry as the traditional handwriting Chinese and Indian inks had a tendency to blur as they couldn’t adhere to printing surfaces. A soot, turpentine and walnut oil-based ink was created by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century making it possible to print papers, books and engravings. The Gutenberg Bible was the first book produced with ink pasted over moveable type and was printed in 1451-1452. The Gutenberg press made it possible to spread ideas to the masses for the first time.

 Different civilizations have burned the various plants naturally available to them to produce charcoal pigments. In Alaska, the Inuits mixed wood charcoal with seal blood, for example. In the Polynesian culture, black pigments were made from the soot of burnt candlenut or sometimes coconut mixed with oil or water to create the ink for traditional tattoos.

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The umbrellas (1881-1886) by A.Renoir

PALE: Basalt, Anthracite, Charcoal, Soot Black.

MEDIUM: Graphite, Blue Black, Bone Black, Obsidian Black, Vine Black*, Smoky Black.

Vine black was produced in the Roman Empire by burning grapevine branches or dried crushes grapes.

DARK: Brilliant black, Lampblack*, Jet black, crow black, liquorice, Ebony, Onyx, Tar, Indian Black, Mars black*.

Lampblack was originally produced by burning oil in a lamp and collecting the black soot that accumulated on the glass surface. Mars black is a black pigment made of synthetic iron oxides. It takes its name from Mars, the Roman god of war.

IN THE WORLD OF INTERIORS

Black is ideal as an accent colour to give a bit of drama to an interior space. A black patterned wallpaper as an accent wall, a striped rug or a set of textured cushions will add a sense of elegance and boldness to the décor and will contrast beautifully with any other colour.

 Black was much favoured as a colour in the early 20th century Art Deco movement. This influential eclectic style first appeared in France in the 1920s and combined the craft movement floral motifs with the geometrical shapes of industrialization.  This inspirational new design style was all about theatrical exuberance, glamour and progress. Chrome, glass, highly polished wood and glossy black lacquered furniture mixed with silks and furs were all the rage. Irishwoman Eileen Gray was a highly talented architect and furniture designer (1878-1976) whose interiors were imbued with sophistication and modernism at the same time. She was without doubt a visionary designer and a precursor of the modern movement.

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Living-room in the E.1027 House by Eileen Gray (1929)

OUT THERE NOW

  •  Lady Gaga unique black perfume Fame.
  • The Manchichi Bar in the Bistrotheque restaurant in East London is  wallpapered with the Midnight Empire Luxury wallpaper by House of Hackney: Pure sophistication!
  • Gail Kelly’s lino-cut designs printed on Irish linen.
  • The Constellation portraits by Japanese artist Kumi Yamashita who uses a single piece of unbroken thread meticulously wrapped around thousands of nails. Absolutely amazing.

gail kelly

IN THE NATURAL WORLD

The black mamba in Africa is one of the fastest and most venomous snakes in the world. Its name comes from the black colour inside its mouth. Another scary creature is the Black Widow spider, which can be found on every continent in the world, except Antartica and whose bite is harmful to humans but fatal to the male of her species. The black panther is not a separate cat breed but rather a black leopard or jaguar, whose natural markings are hidden by the excess black pigment, melanin.

blackberryThe black truffle grows underground near oak or hazelnut trees mainly in southern France, Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe. It can be found in late Autumn and winter especially in January when its perfume is at its most pungent. Truffles can measure up to 7 cm for a weight of up to 100 gr. Another wild mushroom that grows in Europe called ‘trumpet of death’ in French for its trumpet shape and its black colour has a remarkably nutty flavour and is in season from August until November.

Blackberry and blackcurrant are among my favourite fruits to pick when in season. Their juice is a deep purple-black colour and they make the most delicious jams and desserts.