BY KIM PALMER
Sometimes a hue is more than just a hue. Sometimes it becomes a statement — shorthand for an iconic individual.
The lady in red: Diana Vreeland
People wore what Diana Vreeland told them to. The influential fashion editor, who ruled the industry for five decades, was a passionate, extroverted risk-taker. She launched Twiggy’s career, sparked countless trends and recognized the offbeat beauty in unconventional style icons such as Barbra Streisand.
What was Vreeland’s signature color? Red, of course! Not a soft or subtle red but a vibrant, bloody scarlet.
“Red is the great clarifier — bright, cleansing, revealing. It makes all colors beautiful,” said Vreeland in the recent documentary Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. “I can't imagine being bored with it — it would be like becoming tired of the person you love.”
Vreeland was known for her omnipresent red lips and nails and dramatic crimson outfits. But she was also known for her vibrant red living room, one of the most recognizable and iconic rooms in design history.
Decorated in 1955 by American designer Billy Baldwin, the room was the pulsing heart of Vreeland’s Park Avenue apartment, where she entertained and gave countless interviews. There was nothing subtle or understated about the red-on-red sanctuary: It was a riot of saturated color and bold patterns, with twining oversize flowers demanding attention. “I wanted this apartment to be a garden,” said Vreeland. “But it had to be a garden in hell.”
Diana Vreeland Image Credit: © Estate of Horst P. Horst / Art + Commerce
The pied piper of pink: Mamie Eisenhower
Picture the 1950s … pink Cadillacs … pink poodle skirts … and those ubiquitous pink ceramic-tiled bathrooms.
How did America end up with so many pink bathrooms, conservatively estimated at 5 million, during this rosy heyday? Credit goes to Mamie Eisenhower, first lady from 1953 to 1961, according to Pam Kueber, founder of Save the Pink Bathrooms.
Mamie looked good in pink, and she knew it. She wore a pink gown covered with 2,000 pink rhinestones to Ike’s first inauguration, and the shade of her dresses and accessories came to be known as “First Lady Pink” or “Mamie Pink.”
Pink was also her preferred hue for entertaining and decorating. Her own bathroom was pink down to the cotton balls, and after she and her husband moved into the White House, she redecorated the private quarters in her favorite color; reporters at the time christened it the “Pink Palace.”
Mamie’s pink decorating strategy was rooted in practicality, according to Kueber’s research. When Ike was a general, the couple moved from base to base, and Mamie, an efficient military wife, carried her favorite color samples with her so she could quickly set up a new, yet comfortably familiar, household.
She was a popular first lady, and America quickly picked up on her palette, which was “right in line with the exuberance of the time,” says Kueber. Pink existed before Mamie, of course, but “the penchant for pink in the home — especially bathroom fixtures and tiles, but also kitchen appliances and then cabinets — was at a frenzy from about 1954 through to 1960 or so.”
The pink-bathroom craze coincided with America’s middle-class boom, and today, those “Mamie Pink” bathrooms remain retro-chic relics of a prosperous and optimistic era.
The swinger in orange: Frank Sinatra
Singer Frank Sinatra is remembered for many colorful things: his golden voice, his blue eyes and his black moods. But the actual hue he considered his personal favorite was bright sunny orange.
“Orange is the happiest color,” he once said, and he splashed it everywhere. He favored orange shirts, scarves and even bathing trunks, and famously donned a fuzzy orange mohair sweater in Ocean’s Eleven.
Sinatra’s orange fetish didn’t stop at his closet. His homes, offices and even the interiors of his airplanes were awash in the juicy citrus hue.
In The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin’, author Bill Zehme deconstructs the elements of Rat Pack style. He shares this fashion tip from the singer himself: “Pocket handkerchiefs are optional, but I always wear one, usually orange, since orange is my favorite color.”
Sinatra endures as one of the most influential vocalists of all time, but he’s also remembered as a style icon. Decades after he wore them, the slim-cut Rat Pack–style suit is a fashion classic. And you can still buy an officially licensed “Frank Sinatra” fedora, lined in — what else? — happy orange.
The “little black dress” pioneer: Coco Chanel
Until Coco Chanel, a black dress was a dreary symbol of mourning. But in 1926, the French fashion designer single-handedly turned the “little black dress” into a chic wardrobe staple for women of all ages.
Chanel’s “simple yet elegant sheath, in black crêpe de Chine, with long, narrow sleeves, worn with a string of white pearls” (as described by Justine Picardie in her biography Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life) represented a seismic fashion shift.
American Vogue magazine likened the dress to a “Ford,” like the Model T — “affordable, accessible and neutral” — and predicted that Chanel’s little black dress would become “a sort of uniform for all modern women of taste.” Which it did. Today, the “LBD” remains a necessary part of every woman’s wardrobe.
Chanel’s invention is the subject of a recent museum exhibition, “Little Black Dress,” curated by Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley for the Savannah College of Art and Design. The 72 dresses in the show range from classics by Yves St. Laurent and Givenchy to contemporary frocks worn by Rihanna and Lady Gaga. In Talley’s view, the little black dress has endured because it has evolved along with the generations of women who’ve worn it and made it a staple of their wardrobe. Once the chic black dress represented respectability and “church-going correctness,” he said. “Now it represents freedom, liberation and individuality.”
What’s the difference between having a favorite color and a signature color? It’s all in the expression — how you wear it or surround yourself with interesting and beautiful things in that hue.
Want help finding unique products that communicate your — or a client’s — particular color obsession? Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods, has an easy solution. Start here, find your favorite color on the chart and click on it. Etsy will suggest products that are a match — from jewelry to ceramics to vintage sequins.
The color of you
Not sure which color should be your signature? Do you love so many colors, you can’t possibly pick just one favorite? Use this personality quiz to identify the hue that best expresses your “essence.” Answer a series of multiple-choice questions to discover your signature color.