troublesome taupe and mauve measles
June 25, 2020 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Kassia St. Clair's book The Secret Lives of Colour covers the back stories to 75 fascinating shades such as puce, amaranth, and Baker-Miller Pink. St. Clair has written extensively on colors, including 2020 pieces on a colour inventor and a mauve creator for Elle Decoration UK, Is Colour Subjective (links to pdf) and Before Pantone There Was Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, a 1814 taxonomy of 108 colors used by Charles Darwin and other 19th century naturalists that featured Orpiment Orange, Gamboge and Gallstone Yellow among others (Architectural Digest, complimentary article before paywall).

St. Clair also wrote a 2013-2014 series of short "Colourful Tales" articles with pdfs available in her web portfolio. Short interview on Monocle. Reviews from Hyperallergic and Buzzfeed (which includes snippets from several colors). Her latest awardwinning book is The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History (review).
posted by spamandkimchi (15 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
P.S. I realize I was wildly inconsistent with usage of color vs colour, but my brain is in Los Angeles even though the writer is in London.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:03 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]

Queen Victoria wore a silk gown dyed with Perkin’s mauve and trimmed with silver lace. No one had ever seen anything like it before and it caused a sensation. By the following year, it was the only colour to be seen in. Europe had succumbed, according to one magazine, to a serious bout of the ‘mauve measles’.

Celebrity marketing would seem to be not entirely an artifact of digital social media.

Pony request: a mauve day where the blue/green/grey are all substituted with shades of mauve. I'm sure Mifi Dash would approve.
posted by sammyo at 10:08 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]

I could definitely go for a Mauve Day 😁
posted by Mauve at 10:21 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]

A couple of nerderies back, some dance friends and I had a tiny mission to remember that a fancy steampunk cod-Victorian-tech costume would likelier be synthetic colors - vivid, many named for battles, very evocative - than brown. We amused each other, but I don’t think anyone else got the dye references.

Black was a fancy color then as now, since fast black was still difficult. Odd that it still reads that way.
posted by clew at 10:51 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]

"a fourth, never-before-seen primary color has been discovered": squant. that is all.
posted by 20 year lurk at 11:20 AM on June 25

I heard an online talk by Kassia St Clair on colour near the start of lockdown, and have thought about it quite a bit since - and tried, badly, to describe to others what she says about the manufacture of the densest form of black.
posted by paduasoy at 11:31 AM on June 25

Oh, man, that Werner's book. The colours look so sad and faded.

Pantone is comparatively recent, though heavily used commercially. The Munsell system, based on human visual perception, is also an important colour standard.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:51 PM on June 25

As a Chem. Engg. I have a special fondness for WIlliam Perkin. The birth of modern Chemical Industry can be traced to Perkin. The use of Coal Tar (which itself was a by product of the steam production in massive scale using coal) as a precursor for a myriad of products led almost directly to Petrochemicals from the newly tapped Petroleum source in Pennsylvania. This combined with Bayer's production of Aspirin is the beginning of modern Industrial Chemistry. Which is why the highest honor given by the Society of Chemical Industry in the US is the Perkin Medal.

The flip side of this is that it also led directly to the misery of millions as the price for Indigo derived from natural sources collapsed, and the Indigo Farmers in Bihar bore the brunt of that.
posted by indianbadger1 at 2:24 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]

Right now an increase in the use of recycled biofuels to make charcoal has led to an accumulation of "wood tar", and people are looking for uses for it.
posted by acrasis at 5:01 PM on June 25

I spent 15 years in the silkk screen industry, 6 of those years as a full time colour matcher, where I had to eyeball a colour and duplicate it for printing. I learned some very odd things on the job which went against what i was taught in colour theory class in art school, such as mixing magenta and pthalo green will give you a beautiful, rich dark blue. So yeah, this stuff is fascinating and at some point i will pick up this book.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 5:27 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]

Celebrity marketing would seem to be not entirely an artifact of digital social media.

Vicky is definitely high up there in terms of influencers to beat. I mean, her use of white in wedding dresses is still being copied until today. I always found it fascinating that it never quite swung back to 'your best dress in whichever colour'
posted by cendawanita at 7:00 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]

Oh hey I just ran into a short history of color theory the other day.
posted by aniola at 7:57 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]

I wonder if Werner's nomenclature of colours was used to name and/or describe birds, if so it clears up a mystery on how they chose such common-names and apply these kind of color descriptions that I've seen in professional birder's books and scientific literature. So many browns and red-browns that I have trouble recognizing even if most of the color names are common. That and the names of quite a few hummingbirds that amaze me almost as much as the birds themselves.
posted by RuvaBlue at 5:09 PM on June 26

I think it's the other way around, RuvaBlue -- Werner's book was before paints or dyes were scientific enough to be replicable around the world. So Werner used natural things that make their own colors to be the definitions of the color; because you can send the neck feathers of a teal widgeon, and a lump of lapis, around the world.
posted by clew at 5:26 PM on June 26

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