Part of: Future Tense

Essay: We're All Colour-Blind

by Njide Ugboma on 6 August 2008

Fashion is experiencing a love-affair with print and colours: Njide Ugboma investigates the reasons for their continual popularity.

Fashion is experiencing a love-affair with print and colours: Njide Ugboma investigates the reasons for their continual popularity.

Still from 'Doma', Mary Katrantzou (2008)

A little while back I was having dinner with a friend of mine–he’s the head print designer for an illustrious design label, and we were talking about what he does and how he uses his skill to work with colour and fabrics, textiles and shapes. He had become so successful and at such a young age that you couldn’t help but praise him for his talent. It was at this point during our conversation that he leaned over and whispered something in my ear, something he didn’t want anyone else to know about, and he said, 'I’m colour blind.' He only worked with tones and shapes. That’s it. He added, 'I can’t register colour like normal people.'

Although this designer uses a riot of print in his work, an almost unintentional feast of colour, there is a new generation of fashion designers who sometimes purposefully work in the same way. They knowingly challenge and explore our perception of taste, they break the rules of how colours should be seen, and create new ways of matching prints together. Looking at the work of designers such as Henrik Vibskov, Cassette Playa, Mary Katrantzou, and Basso & Brooke, it could, on occasion, be seen as an offence to the senses, a hyperbole to the unaccustomed eye. But in actual fact, their brave use of colour and print leaves us wanting more.

Graduating from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in 2001, Danish born Henrik Vibskov, challenges the conventional approach to colour and co-ordination. His vibrant use of colour on his simply cut designs could only be described as geek-chic; yet, what’s most attractive about his work is the allure of the colours – muted, refined and in a consistency of shades and tones. It is his ability to masterfully combine tartan with an array of pixelated images teamed with stripes that wins me over. Haphazard yet joyful, his collections ensue classic laws of taste while daring our sensibilities and, most importantly, they make us inquisitive about what could potentially come next.

With her distinctive approach to fashion, Carrie Mundane’s label Cassette Playa could almost be seen as confrontational – she defies convention through her vivid prints, her kaleidoscope of colours, and her dayglo-punk aesthetic. She celebrates her love of colours and textiles by making obvious references to the Myspace, Youtube craze of DIY fashion, combined with influences by underground dance cultures – past and present alike. She has brought back the ‘smiley face’ in all its new-age glory; she uses clashing colours like crimson red with bright purple; she puts block shapes and techno prints on drainpipe trousers. When Carrie depicts her love of acid house, retro arcade games and iconic trash graphics, I can’t help but think about certain ‘80s videos such as ‘The Evil Acid Baron’ which are then paired with traditional African print elements. Like a bull in a paint shop, her wild exercise of colour is a clear and bold statement.

It’s certain that colours and prints are there to inspire and even change us – our outlook, our moods, our styles or attitudes.

Asked about her collection, Mary Katrantzou answers naturally, 'My colours have a calculated austerity but the collection remains playful.' This Greek-born designer’s Autumn/Winter 2009 collection won Best Graduate at the London Fashion Awards and sealed the newcomer’s reputation as one who can impart a sense of vulnerability in clothing, bar the self-obsessed drama. On her jersey dresses in deep shades of orange, blue, green or mauve, she added trompe l’oeil digital prints of oversized jewellery – creating an effect which could easily be described as singular and eclectic. This union between classic fashion design and über-modern prints proves that she has the rare but contemporary sensibility of blending a chic urbanity with abstract ideas.

Guitars and pianos, bows, lipsticks and bubbles, caricatures and fluorescent portraits constitute the powerfully colourful world of fashion design duo Basso & Brooke. Since setting up their brand in 2002, Englishman Christopher Brooke and Brazilian Bruno Basso have won the prestigious Fashion Fringe Award, as well as an array of fashion followers, with their confident and sexy collections of visually dazzling clothes. Suits and dresses with cartoon prints, graphic designs and printed collages create catwalk shows full of electric splendour. And although these elements demand our attention, it’s also their joyous, optimistic humour which they express in their typical urban-glamorous way that we love; it’s the fact that their designs perfectly incarnate the complexity between art and design, where one and the other cohabit beautifully. That’s why they remain one of the most pleasantly radioactive surprises in the world of fashion.

By looking at the work of these designers, it’s certain that colours and prints are there to inspire and even change us – our outlook, our moods, our styles or attitudes. So, what could we deem as ‘normal’ colour sight? The liberties colours offer us are invaluable and that’s why we all determine the spectrum in our own unique way. And at the end of the day they’re there for experimentation, humour and pleasure - the only truly essential style staples.




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