Here's a little history lesson for the under-50 crowd: The term "psychedelic" was coined by British psychologist and early hallucinogenic-drug-therapy proponent Humphrey Osmond, to mean "mind manifesting" – in other words, the outer manifestation of the inner world of the human psyche.
People who have been under the influence of a psychedelic drug often describe the experience as the brain projecting heightened sensory data onto things in the outside world. Food tastes better than ever, sounds take on an otherworldly quality, and ordinary objects glow with intense color and light. And the interplay of all the senses creates an unimaginable spectacle.
Once the word psychedelic became associated with the hallucinogen-fueled counterculture art movement of the 1960s and 1970s – and the bright, heavily saturated colors, patterns and surreal images that defined it – it found its way into the mainstream.
But as Osmond once observed, "To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic." What are the effects of the psychedelic color palette? In color psychology, warm colors such as red, orange and yellow have the power to evoke a range of emotions from warmth and comfort to anger and hostility. The cool palette produces emotions no less extreme, with blues, purples and greens inducing feelings of calm, sadness, indifference and even depression.
All colors in the spectrum play a role in psychedelic art, and psychedelic art often uses the most intensely saturated hues in the proverbial crayon box and combines them in ways almost unimaginable.
Timing is everything. In December 2007, Scientific American published an article about the science community's renewed interest in the therapeutic benefits of hallucinogenic drugs on such illnesses as chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug and alcohol dependency. And now, decades after their parents – or grandparents – succumbed to Timothy Leary's urgings to "turn on, tune in, drop out," a whole new generation is being introduced to the mind-blowing effects of the psychedelic color palette. Tired of channeling their inner Goth, fashion designers went color-happy in 2008. Cheerfully saturated hues of tangerine, lemon, lime, fuchsia, violet, cobalt blue, cherry and more – and statement-making patterns that combined them – dominated fashion runways as designers showed off their 2008 spring and fall collections.
For example, for its set design, the youth-oriented designer clothing label Miss Sixty collaborated with Bob Masse, the internationally renowned psychedelic-rock-and-roll poster artist. Masse's famous commemorative poster of Janis Joplin – enhanced with UV paint and blown up to cover the entire runway – provided the backdrop for a collection filled with patterned tights, faux fur vests, chunky beaded jewelry and a cheerful explosion of contrasting colors.
America's trendsetting youth are embracing these colorful aspects of the 21st-century hippie movement – much to the surprise of members of the original "Summer of Love" generation. "It astounds me that psychedelic colors are making such a comeback," says Michael Scott, design director of Robb & Stucky Interiors, Scottsdale, Ariz. "Those of us who lived through the tumultuous '60s and '70s tend to dislike the kaleidoscope of patterns and colors."
So some people will definitely steer clear. But psychedelic colors and patterns are making their way back into the mainstream color palette, as witnessed by IKEA's recent U.S. commercials featuring colorful homes. As psychedelic colors influence home décor, it remains to be seen if even the trendiest members of the youth culture will go all out or just use judicious pops of psychedelic colors in their accessories and accents.