Marchioness > Archive > Volume 1 > Black Again
Words by Lara Delmage
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Black, Again

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Who died and made the colour black (or shade, for you pedantics) boss? Why are we so obsessed with it? How does that affect fashion laypeople and designers alike? Lara spills the tea on why black is always in.

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So what’s the deal with black? We’re talking black in fashun here, darling. Black is a wardrobe favourite for fashionistas and fashion avoiders alike, but what's the deal? We’ve all heard that it's *eyeroll* slimming, but what you may not have heard is that this was started by men in the nineteenth century; the golden age of black. I’ll be getting back to that bit in a moment, but anyway, the plan here is to tell you a little bit about the history of black and why fashion has been and always will be obsessed with it. But that’s not it, because honestly I’m not a qualified history teacher and this sure as hell isn’t an academic article on the history of black and its prevalence in society and, by extension, fashion (yawn). So, what I’m going to do is shpiel away at designer’s use of black, not only in their collections but in their own personal wardrobe too. I might also deviate from black to discuss designer’s personal style in general with some sneaky interview titbits, but you’re just going to have to read the whole article to find out whether or not I do that (wink).

 

Prior to the Victorian era both men and women wore a buttload of colour, especially if they were wealthy. Everyone was fabulous in technicolour until the 19th century hit and BAM, all black everything. What’s the tea with that? Well, according to dress historian John Harvey, people discovered how goddamn sexy black can be, and apparently it was dandies like Oscar Wilde who paved the way for the glory days of the shade. Bringing me to my first argument on the (benefits) of black, its genderlessness. Does colour have gender? I mean, it shouldn’t really but we all know it does (gender reveal parties are a testament to this) but the dandies were seen as pioneers of gender bending as they wore clothing that appeared at once manly and feminine; black. Another fun fact is that Darwin (stay with me here, it’s interesting I swear) thought that the colour black was a feature of sexual evolution. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, in human sexual selection (his words not mine) a black coat is not only visually appealing but also signals something of the wearer’s daring nature, their danger-factor, and can be daring and a sign of ‘dangerous sex’. I think we can all agree that Darwin was onto something here, with black leather and latex fetish wear being a modern testament to his theory. 

 

But that was then, and we’re interested in the here and now baby! So, I don’t really have to tell you that black is hot as hell all year round, with fashion designers like Rick Owens, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto dedicating collection after collection to the shade. Surely its icon status (if colours can be icons) can’t simply be due to its genderless sex appeal? Chritsian Dior is purported to have said that black is simply perfect because you “can wear black at any time. You can wear it at any age. You may wear it for almost any occasion” and while I maintain that you should be able to wear whatever colour you like at whatever age, the man does have a point. Also, according to www.buytshirtsonline.co.uk’s survey on colour perception (don’t quote me on this) people judged black to represent “good” traits in a person, these being confidence, intelligence and sexiness (these are the extent of the ‘good’ traits, go figure). 

 

Fashion designer Kloé Porter agrees with all these connotations of black as classic, effortless, chic, flattering and easy, stating that black is an easy route to go down as a designer because few people are afraid to wear it and from a merchandising standpoint, pieces in black are guaranteed best-sellers. However, we discussed her move away from using the colour in her designs as “it can be hard to photograph, so not very useful for fittings. Because it is so forgiving it can make it harder to spot mistakes or an ill fit too.” So is black really the ideal go-to? Regarding the darkness that has dawned on all our lives in the wake of the pandemic, Porter states that she found black to be “too heavy”, and that while colour experimentation can be a scary gamble, injecting colour into garments can, as Porter states “really pay off in your mood”. Conversely, designer Sarah Garfield sees black as a comfort, as a “blank canvas that transcends all the noise and acts as a relevant constant in an ever-changing industry”. From season to season, black is a constant, a security blanket, but not your average blanket! Oh no, it's one that’s not only cosy but mysterious, classy and sexy all in one go - I’ll take three.

 

So what about off the catwalk? We’re always seeing designers like Christopher Kane, Vera Wang and Riccardo Tisci sporting jeans and a black tee of various descriptions when walking down the runway to receive their applause, causing many to wonder why they don’t dress as extra as they dress others? Of this Yamamoto said “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy - but mysterious. But above all black says this: “I don’t bother you - don’t bother me”. This serves as an easy explanation - designers want the attention to be on their designs, not themselves, although this definitely does not apply to the reigning king of OTT, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele.

 

 When discussing the pressure on designers to ‘look good’ off-duty, Porter said that she often gets met with “confused looks when people learn that I’m a designer and I’m not dressed in something flamboyant or especially fashionable”. This pressure to conform comes as no surprise in an industry that's obsessed with the exterior to the point of forgetting that fashion is, at its core, about self expression and if someone wants to express themselves by wearing jeans and a tee so be it! You wouldn’t expect a tradie to wear their overalls to pop to Tesco, so why are we disappointed when we spot an off-duty designer wearing crocs and cutoffs? The crux of it is that we have a hard time separating a person from their artwork. The meaning of a work of art is constantly sought after in the biography of the artist and in fashion this is no different. So, perhaps designers use black as a staple in their personal wardrobes to avoid giving away clues, to avoid being the focal point to collection after collection when they’ve actually been inspired by a multitude of different things which don’t necessarily correlate with bad breakups or daddy issues.

 

This is not to say that using yourself as a subject for inspiration is a bad thing. It just must be tiresome to have people scrutinise you for the answers all the time, and to be constantly representing your ‘brand’. Fashion, like any art form is subjective, so while the artist’s intention does have merit, what really matters is how it makes you feel, individually.  Some designers like Garfield do fuse their personal style with their work, which she sees as a “honest and raw expression of [her] personal style and identity”. Garfield plays with goth and emo tropes in her designs which reflects her personal style. She described her off-duty vibe as ranging “from gothic glamour, to 2000’s mall goth, to 15-year-old emo boy”, and I mean if your personal style is as cool as that then why the hell wouldn’t you want to incorporate it into your work?! 

 

What I’m getting at here is that we shouldn’t expect designers to perform for us like dancing monkeys at a circus. Just because people are artists doesn't mean they have to dress like we imagine artists should dress. In a similar vein, the colour black continues to be a fashion go-to in all spheres because of its universality, and the way you can inflict your personal feelings and nuances onto it. That’s the beauty of art, it is what you make it. Does that LBD remind you of that aubergine you left in the oven and cremated last night? Does it recall the fetishwear you can’t wait to wap out once unleashed from your lockdown prison? It’s both and more. It’s called artistic license honey, get into it.

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@ Alaric Macdonald. Sarah wears jacket and bloomers by Sarah Garfield.