Rainbow nation

Hannah Betts says colour is the new currency of the C-19 crisis

This article is taken from the March 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.

March, a year into what people still insist on referring to as “the new reality”, with scant regard for how unreal matters continue to be. I’ll spare you one of those banal, 12-months-on retrospectives because we know how that one goes: people died, the economy got trashed, adults grew fat, drunk and mad, the young went feral, agoraphobic and uneducated, and everyone — yes, everyone — acquired dogs.

It doesn’t get more ancient or fundamental than the solace that is colour

This morning yielded speculation about autumn being the moment when restrictions will be lifted, as if autumn won’t bring fresh snot and variants enough to see us bricked into our homes forever. Cheery, ain’t it?

We require solace — ancient and fundamental — and it doesn’t get more ancient or fundamental than the solace that is colour. As Kassia St Clair discusses in her fascinating account of the history of fabric, The Golden Thread, the oldest examples we have of weaving — from flax threads dating back some 34,500 years — reveal that, although most were left in their natural grey, black or turquoise, others were dyed brilliant red, yellow, violet, green and pink. Joseph’s coat of many colours becomes a positive parvenu in the context of these Palaeolithic glad rags.

More than park squats, or passive aggressive bread-making, colour has become the currency of the corona crisis. It’s as if — inspired by all those NHS rainbows — we made a collective decision to become the rainbow; or, at least, cherry-pick elements from it.

The spring catwalks, such as they were, were about popping pigment rather than the traditional pastels. Design teams revelled in super-saturated bolds, viz Versace, Valentino, Fendi, Balenciaga, Prada, Miu Miu, Roksanda, Erdem, Emilia Wickstead and Molly Goddard. There was a fair bit of red, but the approach was glorious Technicolor rather than the conventional one hot shade.

More than park squats, or passive aggressive bread-making, colour has become the currency of the corona crisis

Over on the high street — again, such it is — those nice people at John Lewis inform me that sales of brights were up 69 per cent in January, with green rig-outs proving particularly popular.

Meanwhile, Kettlewell, the great British colour clothing company, which sells garments in more than 300 shades, enjoyed its best-ever sales during 2020, with customers craving the spectrum to propel them out of doom. Its founder, Melissa Nicholson, reports: “AW20 was the best season since our launch in 2004, with revenue up 70 per cent year-on-year during September. It has been phenomenal. We’ve never known demand like it. Customers have written to say that we’re what’s getting them through the pandemic. Colour is comfort, energy, fuel.”

It is customary at this point in an article about colour to quote The Devil Wears Prada’s blue jumper speech. Instead, let’s talk about me. As an infant, if you’d asked what my favourite shade was, I’d have replied “red” because I knew that was what dynamic types were supposed to answer.

There was a dodgy period in my twenties when I decided that brown suited me — given my hair/mole situation — leaving me resembling a giant turd. However, for 20 years or so, my colour obsessions have remained constant. Grey is what one lover referred to as my “autistic safe colour”, the shade of sofas, bedding and towels.

Gold is my bling ornamentation option, while emerald is my passion, my fixation, my Shade of All Good Things. From time to time, this will lead to juxtaposition with fuchsias, mauves and sapphires, but largely it is a destination in itself. It is a childlike pleasure to wallow in one’s favourite hue, which is why benighted adults will find it such a salve.

In spring, when the light changes, I crave colour, stepping forth in lurid sunglasses from Vestiaire Collective, bright Aurora London crossbody bags, and lunatic Hermès scarves. But how much more so this year, when such fillips feel like all we’ve fucking got.

Kettlewell is the kid-in-a-candy-store option. Some would argue that it works best if one has had one’s colour “season” done, as I did a few years ago by House of Colour, confirming that — as a “jewel winter” — emerald is indeed my crack.

On the other hand, you could simply select the shades that you adore. (No one’s going to keep me from cornflower, despite its qualifying as “summer”.)

Essentiel Antwerp is fabulously colour-conscious. Kitri has found favour for its bold frockage, much-emulated, not least by Nineties staple Ghost, with its lavish rainbow satins.

Frog stalwart Tara Jarmon has its moments; M&S has been churning out spectacular coloured cashmere; ditto Cocoa Cashmere, which boasts joyful hues as part of its mission statement.

As I type, I am sporting violet Crayola eyelids (literally, the crayon company now sells slap incarnations via Asos). Thus far in 2021, I have purchased four pairs of jewel-hued Dents evening gloves, a flight of brilliant brooches, two cerulean pullovers, and an emerald (vegan) “astrakhan” coat.

Take that, lockdown.

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