Book review: The Colour Revolution

Fashion helps shape our visual landscape and, well, adds a little fun to our lives. However, behind what may seem like a frivolous world are countless brains deciding on what we wear and what colour these garments should be made available in.

The colour of the season isn’t just some fluke or flippant decision made by the editor of Vogue but the work of colour specialists who through history have directed trends based on economic forces and shifting cultural values that have in turn influenced consumers’ preferences.

Design historian Regina Lee Blaszczyk maps all this out in The Colour Revolution. The author traces the relationship of colour and commerce, from haute couture to automobile showrooms to interior design, describing the role of the colour profession in consumer culture. This is an intriguing story of how colourists have helped industry manipulate consumers.

The Colour Revolution examines the evolution of the colour profession from 1850 to 1970, telling the stories of innovators who managed the colour cornucopia that modern artificial dyes and pigments made possible. These ‘colour engineers’ helped corporations understand the art of illusion and the psychology of this medium.

With a focus on America, the book is a lively account of how individuals and industry made colour a transforming force in our culture and design. For instance, Blaszczyk describes the strategic burst of colour that took place in the 1920s, when General Motors introduced a bright blue saloon to compete with Ford’s all-black Model T and when housewares became available in a range of brilliant hues.

She explains the process of colour forecasting, and she shows how colour information flowed from the fashion houses of Paris to textile mills in New Jersey.

Colour Revolution is written by Regina Lee Blaszczyk and published by MIT Press. Purchase a copy here.

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