Magazines usually love to depict winter as a snowy, sparkling wonderland. Few show the more frequent reality of leaden skies and damp chill and this makes the spread from a 1921 Gazette du Bon Ton rather unusual. It’s on show in the East Wing of Somerset House in Fashioning Winter. With artwork by Andre Edouard Marty, Le Parc en Decembre shows a scarlet jacket cut to a simple shape, tapering volume through the body at the hip and balancing the slim hip with a bell sleeve. Dramatic colour doesn’t need embellishment. The jacket is perfectly offset against the grey landscape, a sartorial exclamation mark in a dull context.
Whether it’s the Parisienne flapper or the 1980S skier (a gloriously ‘80s Ellesse fuschia ski jacket is also on show) we’ve all experienced the mood-altering and energising power of colour. In a couple of months’ time, the Holi festivities will be in full swing throughout India, celebrating Spring and the victory of good over evil with a riotous (literally) orgy of colour.
There is also something opulent about colour. Throughout history it has signified regalia, ritual and rarity, often due to the difficulty and expense of producing the requisite paints and dyes. Diana Vreeland expressed the sentiment perfectly: “All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red. I can never get painters to mix it for me. About the best red is to copy the colour of a child’s cap in any Renaissance portrait.”
Le Parc en Decembre has certainly touched something in my own subconscious. I stumbled upon a red suede dress in my local Cancer Research shop. Like the Marty illustration, it was a spare design with long sleeves, falling elegantly to mid-calf and with a key-hole back. Held up against the grey skies outside, it was a pure shot of Studio 54.