Setting The Mood With Color

We wrote this post a few years ago but we believe that it still holds true. Color has always held a fascination for us and it’s a key element in the design process. And just for interest, here’s the Pantone Color of the Year for 2020: 🙂

 


One of the key elements in fashion design is color and late 19th Century fashion design is no exception. The design process may vary between individual designers but no matter who they are, they all have to consider what colors they’re going to use in their designs. The selection of colors is dependent on the season (though not always) and as such, tend to follow nature. Today, heavy weight is given to predicting what colors will be popular with fashion consumers because this influences the color and types of fabrics that design houses will order for their new lines; a multi-million dollar industry has been created around predicting what colors will be in for the following year with Pantone being the leading firm because of it setting color standards for a variety of industries.. The following color palettes from Pantone give a good illustration of this:

First we have the palette for Fall 2017:

PANTONE Fashion Color Report Fall 2017, New York

Most of the colors are deep, darker earth tones with a neutral gray mixed in reflecting shorter, darker days, leaves turning and the dying off of plant life in anticipation of winter. Nest, here’s the palette for Spring 2018:

Image result for pantone colors fall 2018

Just for comparison, here’s the Spring 2020 Color palette (in some ways, it seems to be a close re-rum of the 2018 palette):

In the above palette for 2018 and 2020, the colors tend to be lighter, reflecting the increasingly longer days, more sunny weather, and new growth of plants and foliage.

However, before we go on, let us note that color trend prediction is a somewhat subjective and as such, it doesn’t always follow strict rules and as such, it’s more of an approximation today than it was during the 19th Century. Here are two examples from the late 19th Century:

As with other designers, consideration of color makes up a good part of the design process and it’s one of the first steps in the design process. For us, colors fall under three major categories: Fall, Winter, and Spring/Summer. At the same time, we also consider what sort of a garment we’re designing: ball gown, day dress, reception dress, etc. Also, we consider where it’s primarily going to be worn: outside, indoors, indoors at night (e.g., ball room, stage, etc.). Once those questions are answered, we can then proceed with more specific color selections. If the garment is to be worn during the daytime and outside, we tend to first use nature as the first starting point for inspiration.

To illustrate this, let’s consider our Camille picnic dress design. When we originally conceived of it, we were looking for a day dress that could be worn at an outdoor event in the Spring or Summer such as a picnic. The Mid-Bustle Era has always been a favorite with us, so we decided that the style would derive from that period. From there, we determined our color palette, drawing inspiration from the Impressionist painters and Claude Monet in particular. But even more specifically, we wanted to emphasize the Spring with its fresh vegetation and explosion of lighter green colors combined with occasional pops of red or violet and towards that end, Monet’s garden at Giverny was the perfect source of inspiration. After some online photo research, here’s what we came up with:

Karin Camille Mood Board Spring 2016

Ultimately, the decision was made to go with a bright chartreuse as the primary color based on the greenery found at Giverny that’s portrayed with in Monet’s paintings as well as actual photographs such as this one:

Giverny Monet

Giverny Today

Below are a few more illustrations of the final Camille picnic dress just to give an idea of how the color was ultimately brought to life:

Karin Camille Picnic Dress

Karin Camille Picnic Dress Impressionist

Karin Camille Picnic Dress

From a color theory standpoint, the colors that we ultimately used for the Camille picnic dress were: chartreuse (both pale and bright), pale champagne gold (on the lower sleeves), and yellow-orange (the fringed trim running on the skirt front):

Image result for bright chartreuse pantone

Image result for old gold pantone

Finally, if viewed on the color wheel, you will notice that they are all analogous colors that are located next to each on the wheel:

color-wheel-300

We hope you’ve enjoyed that this post has helped give you some insight into just one of the many elements that go into making a Lily Absinthe design.



More Color Building Blocks

Today we look a little more at color and shape only this time, we’re looking at colors that are harmonizing rather than contrasting (i.e. complementary) than the example that we last posted. First, as described previously, we have contrasting colors which are colors opposite of each other in the color wheel:

Contrasting Colors

Next, we have harmonizing colors which are colors that lie between two primary colors. In this case, the arrow indicates colors between the primary colors of blue and yellow:

Harmonizing Color

In practice, the use of harmonizing colors can sometimes produce suboptimal results so often times, it’s a matter of seeing what works and what doesn’t which can be very subjective. Admittedly, the above explanation is somewhat of an oversimplification but it does illustrate something that we do almost unconsciously whether we’re selecting a color scheme for painting the house, new bath towels, or even fabrics for a new dress. Of course, what specific colors we each choose are completely subjective… 🙂

Turning to fashion, here’s an example of the use of harmonizing colors with this dress from circa 1885 – 1886:

Day Dress 1885-86 1

Day Dress, c. 1885 – 1886; Goldstein Museum of Design (1961.003.006)

Day Dress 1885-86 2

Three-Quarter Left Front View

Day Dress 1885-86 4

Right Side Profile

Day Dress 1885-86 7

Rear View

In terms of silhouette, this dress is relatively simple, consisting of an underskirt and combination bodice/overskirt/train (which appears to be a one-piece construction from examining the pictures). With a short bodice front, the bodice is reminiscent of a tailcoat and it presents a dramatic vertical sweep that shows off the fashion fabric to its best advantage. Interestingly enough, the dress is dates as being c. 1885 – 1886 but we would be inclined to think that it’s actually earlier (i.e. more Mid-Bustle Era), judging from the minimal train and cylindrical silhouette. Of course, there’s also the possibility that it was staged without the requisite underpinnings; sometimes it’s hard to tell only from photos.

As for colors, we see the use of a burgundy/wine silk for the base underskirt covered by a patterned silk brocade bodice/overskirt. The pattern itself is a burgundy/wine color that matches the underskirt and the background color is a light rose/gold. Below are some close ups of the bodice and skirts where you can really get a good look at the silk brocade pattern:

As can be seen from the above, we have to basic harmonizing colors, burgundy/wine and rose/gold and these can all be found in the color wheel between red and yellow. This is only one example but we thought we’d showcase it a bit simply because it’s a very dramatic illustration of this effect. Also, the combination bodice/overskirt further enhances the effect since it flows uninterrupted. Finally, we chose this dress simply because we love its aesthetics. 🙂


Stay tuned for more!


The Building Blocks Of Fashion – Contrast Colors

Over the years, we have found that it’s easy to get lost looking at the various styles of Victorian clothing and the tendency is for it all to blend together into a massive collage of “stuff.” What’s a lot harder is to “get under the hood,” so to speak, and attempt to determine the logic of specific style choices. So, in an attempt to shed some light on late Victorian style, we have decided to hone in on one of the most common features in the styles of the era and that’s the use of colors and textures in a deliberate manner to create a specific aesthetic effect. We hope you enjoy our small excursion.


The use contrasting colors and textures was a major element in late Victorian Era fashion and as such, it offered a wealth of style possibilities. During the 1880s, the use of contrast was especially in vogue and there were endless variations on this theme. The use of contrasting colors is an effective method for breaking up what would otherwise make for a plain, monochromatic appearance.

So what are contrasting colors? Simply put, they are colors that are separated by one or more colors on the color wheel and the more colors that stand between them, the greater the contrast. Looking at the color wheel below gives an illustration of this:

Color wheel

Or, to put it another way, the color combinations below would be considered to be high contrast:

 Color Contrast1

Color Contrast2

Color Contrast3

Granted, this is somewhat of an oversimplification but it conveys the basic idea. 🙂

So, turning to fashion, how does this translate? For the late 19th Century, we see an assortment of contrast colors and one good illustration of this is with this circa Mid/Late 1880s dress that we found on the Augusta Auctions website:

Here we see these basic contrast colors:

Color Contrast4.png

Here are some more pictures:

In terms of color, what is also interesting is that celedon is a cool color while the burgundy, and the yellow gold to a lesser extent, are warm colors and this serves to only intensify the contrast. Also, the cut of the overskirt draping over the underskirt is also dramatic and it further emphasizes the contrast. When looking at this dress, eye is immediately drawn to the skirts.

The contrast in colors continues up the bodice, given an enlarged “canvas” to the design and from a distance, this dress could almost be a princess line. Below are some close up views:

Texture also plays a role here in that one can see three different textures at work: a burgundy-colored silk velvet; an overskirt/over bodice of celadon silk brocade; and a yellow gold box-woven silk or cotton.

The above has been a somewhat oversimplified examination of the use of contrast colors in late Victorian fashion but it illustrates one of the basic building blocks of fashion during this period. Stay tuned for more in the future. 🙂



Eiffel Red

In a previous post, we noted that in late 1889, a new color “chaudron red” had been created with the name “Eiffel Red” in honor of the newly built Eiffel Tower. Essentially, it was a rich deep shade of chaudron-red and as such described the original color that the Eiffel Tower was painted when it was first erected for the Paris Exhibition of 1889. The original paint was meant as a protective coating and had a copper-red color because of its active ingredient, iron oxide, which gives the paint its protective quality, preventing rust to the steel that made up the Eiffel Tower’s construction (even to this day, iron oxide paint is used for treating steel beams). So what did this look like? Probably something like this:

To give an idea how it might have looked like, at least through artistic eyes, is this illustration:

Georges Garen, Embrasement de la Tour Eiffel, 1889; Musée d’Orsay, Paris

It must have been a magnificent to have seen this back in 1889. 🙂

Trending- Color for November 1891

T he more we read through fashion publications of the 1880s and 1890s, the more fascinating we find their pronouncements on fashion trends and especially when it comes to color. For example, in the November 1891, Demorest’s Family Magazine, it’s noted that:

Striking combinations of color are a feature of the newest gowns. Dahlia-red with gray, beige with green, heliotrope with brown, dark blue with green, black with yellow, are popular; but perhaps the most novel is billiard-green with a bright blue, the apparently irreconcilable colors harmonized by a profusion of gold embroidery, and the gown made of these is exceedingly rich in effect, and not at all bizarre. Black wool dresses are trimmed with bright colors, and all black dresses of silk or wool. trimmed profusely with jet, are very fashionable. The combination of black and yellow is noticeable in all lines of dress, and hats of yellow velvet with jet trimmings are worn with costumes of all colors.

Just to visualize, here’s a rough idea of the the color combinations (allowing for the fact that they’re computer-generated):

Heliotrope/Brown

Dark Blue/Green

Black/Yellow

Bright Blue/Billiard Green

While the above color combinations are reported by the fashion press as being the current “thing”, locating extant examples for the early 1890s is not as easy. However, we did locate some examples from other years such as these two princess line dresses from the late 1870s in combinations of pale greens and daker blues:

And moving on to a bit later, we have this jacket from 1895:

Skirt Suit Jacket, c. 1895; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.173&A-1969)

And for some yellow and black, here’s a bodice from the late 1890s:

I was not as successful in locating an example of the heliotrope and brown so you’ll just have to use your imaginations there. 🙂 What’s interesting is that while certain colors were said to be in vogue, it was also obvious that reality didn’t always match was was stated and that these were more in the way of general guidelines. Also, pending a more exhaustive study, it’s hard to say if these colors were utilized in dress styles but we simply don’t have any surviving examples or was this more wishful thinking and/or exaggeration on the part of Demorest’s (after all, they were in the business of selling patterns). But there is one thing that could be said with certainty and that is these color combinations were done at one time or another. We don’t pretend to have the definitive answer here but it’s certainly an interesting area to explore further.