Fashion’s Top 7 Maestros of Color, Past and Present

March 22, 2019 0 By HearthstoneYarns

New York – Most designers deal in color and our runways are rainbow-flavored.
Trendspotting websites analyze international fashion weeks to determine the
overriding palette that will dictate our future shopping habits and then
compile endless reports. Black and white remain commercial stalwarts, but
debates might arise along the lines of which colors flatter the most skin
types. Floating above this fray is a handful of creatives who exhibit such
a knack for color that they are almost removed from the discussion,
virtuosos who need not be subjected to such banalities. Instinct over
analysis steers their course. Here is a countdown of fashion’s top 7
colorists of all time:

7. Valentino

Just as a specific shade of blue became synonymous with French artist,
Yves Klein, a shade of red quickly became one of the pillars of Valentino’s
work, and a trademarked formula composed of 100 percent magenta, 100 percent yellow and
10 percent black. Said to be inspired by women he observed on a trip to the opera
as a child, the color has been included in every collection since 1959,
through the designer’s adoption by the era’s jet-setting glamorati, from
Elizabeth Taylor to Jackie Kennedy, and his ascent to the top of
international fashion, until his retirement in 2008 when a parade of “Val’s
Gals,” as his devotees became known, took to the runway for a blazing
scarlet finale. Fortunately the color palettes of his successor at the
house Pierpaolo Piccioli are equally intoxicating, and his collections
sensitively evolve the founder’s legacy of femininity, romanticism and
craftsmanship in one of modern fashion’s smoothest changing of the

6. Paul Poiret

Paul Poiret’s fascination with Near and Far Eastern cultures, and the
costumes of the Ballets Russes, inspired his unique sense of color at the
turn of the twentieth century. While he is recorded in fashion history’s
annals for having freed women of corsets and petticoats and introduced the
pantalon to their wardrobe––revolutions so significant they have
been compared with Picasso’s on art–– his incorporation of his exotic
influences into his color palette certainly contributed to his success. An
avid exponent of Art Deco, he is famously quoting as asking “Am I a fool
when I dream of putting art in my dresses, a fool when I say dressmaking is
an art?” After a 90-year hiatus, the house relaunched this year under
artistic direction of couturiere Yiqing Yin , and from the creations on her
Saharan-hued fall 2018 runway during Paris Fashion Week the vibrancy hasn’t

5. Schiaparelli

Upon her death in 1973, the New York Times mourned the designer
who “brought color to fashion,” but perhaps equally remarkable is the
singular lack of sewing knowledge Elsa Schiaparelli brought to fashion.
Heavily influenced by Surrealism, in particular Salvador Dali and Jean
Cocteau, and mentored by Paul Poiret, Schiaparelli explored novelty,
juxtaposition, and subversion during the period between the two world wars
in everything from the shape of buttons to her trompe-l’oeil prints. This
unique sensibility distinguished her work from that of her arch-rival Coco
Chanel who famously dismissed Schiaparelli as “that Italian artist who
makes clothes.” However Schiaparelli’s creations appealed to Marlene
Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Katharine Hepburn, and what we know today as the
color ‘Shocking pink” derives its name from the tone of pink used in the
lettering of the packaging for her perfume, Shocking, a
collaboration between the designer and Surrealist painter, Leonor Fini. There’s no refuting
Schiaparelli’s own assessment of the color: ”bright, impossible, impudent,
becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the
world put together, a colour of China and Peru but not of the West — a
shocking color, pure and undiluted.”

4. Christian Lacroix

He favored hot Mediterranean notes mixed with the opulent shades of the
theater, intensely decorated and patterned, a leftover from his background
in costume design––he exhibited a penchant for shocking pink too. Known for
his revisit of corsets, crinolines and “le pouf,” the gloriously polarizing
puffball skirt of the late 80s, his sense of color was nothing short of
operatic. While his company reportedly never turned a profit in its 30-year
existence, entering into administration in 2009, his recent work has
returned him to his roots designing for theatre, ballet, and music
performances––although still collaborating with fashion’s finest purveyor
of tulles and lace, Hallette, and with Swarovski for crystals––as well as
applying his vision to international hotel interiors. Recently Lacroix told
Vogue “fashion was an accident” however, to many, the poetic
spectacle of his runways remains embedded in our psyche where his palette
continues to haunt.

3. Giorgio Armani

It’s tempting to feature only designers whose palette pulls from the
brighter side of the chromatic spectrum, but the Italian designer, himself
never not in navy, understood from the beginning that you don’t need to
shout to be heard, earning himself the title “the king of greige.” In the
80s an army of glass ceiling-breakers in understated hues to offset their
overstated ambition descended on Wall Street casting a shadow of revolution
over the executive menfolk. Shades of beige and grey and the limitless
possibilities they spawned: taupe, oyster, sand, mauve, slate, concrete,
accented with a swathe of dusty pink or shot of sunset orange, helped make
Armani one of the most successful modern designers, and it’s little wonder
his influence is currently rippling across the international Me Too-infused
runways. His shades never subtly blur but remain rigorously fine tuned, and
when he shifts gear into full throttle technicolor for red-carpet effect,
whether dressing Michelle Pfeiffer or Lady Gaga, his unparalleled and
singular vision is as essential as ever.

2. Yves Saint Laurent

From the bold color-blocked geometry of 1965’s “Mondrian” collection,
his Matisse-Inspired eveningwear of fall 1980 or the stark white iteration
of ‘le smoking’ worn by Bianca Jagger, Yves Saint Laurent knew how to make
color surprising, alluring, but mostly showstopping––it was fitting that
the models on his final runway wore only black because the show had
stopped. The beloved Jardin Majorelle vista of his Moroccan vacation home
was a constant inspiration, but throughout his life he collected art with
partner Pierre Bergé until his homes swelled with Picassos, Brancusis,
Cézannes, and Andy Warhols resulting in a natural and euphoric overspill
onto his runways. In his hand a swoosh of colorfully charged satin
encircling the waist completed an outfit like a painter’s scribbled
signature in the corner of a portrait.

1. Dries Van Noten

The top spot is awarded to the designer whose Spring 2018 menswear press
notes mention only color, and read like the ingredients for a sumptuous
feast as well as the components of a wicked spell: “flesh, pink, coffee,
mustard, powder, sky blue, petrol, zabaglione, mocha, mayonnaise, slate,
mouse, peach, marine, mint, dove grey, putty, plum…” Van Noten’s
womenswear, one of the most highly anticipated each season, offers
eternally off-kilter plunders of the color wheel that electrify and mystify
in equal measure. In the 2017 documentary, “Dries,” the designer is seen
relaxing in the magnificent home of his 50-acre estate with his Airedale
terrier, and picking flowers from his sprawling garden, while in his studio
in Antwerp he handles artisanal textiles, gorgeous flocked ferns and
brocades, sweeping florals, paisleys, stripes and animal print, matching
and clashing with the same ease as he collaborates with Mother Nature on
his flower beds. That which in lesser hands would result in chaos, in his
manifests glorious cohesion. No designer at work today understands the
conflict between color and tension between tones like Van Noten, as he
provokes and dares, shredding the rule book yet operating within the area
of thoughtful wearability. These are color palettes that make one sigh, the
stuff of wizardry, deserving of a spot on a gallery wall.

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk
for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion

Runway photos; Fashion Designs by Paul Poiret,
1908. illustrated by Paul Iribe. Les Robes de Paul Poiret, p.17 Wikimedia
Commons Public Domain; Shocking Pink Schiaparelli tag inside lingerie case
from Is.Joules Wikimedia Commons