The Future of Color: More Fashion 2011

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Welcome back, color-fans. After taking the color-temperature of New York’s Fashion Week, I’ve decided to dip back into the swim of colors as 2011 fashion debuts march across the globe: next in London, Milan, and finally Paris. Here are the hues of the moment.

First (and most deliciously, to my mind) is a preponderance of super-pale shades with a calculated pop of vivid color. I practically had my big wooden spoon out, ready to gobble up Jonathan Saunders’ collection in London (above). Saunders also offered a whiff of another refreshing color-combo: B&W matched with highlighter-bright pastels (below).

This cow-pattern dress also nicely exemplifies another color-trick this season: using ice-blues to punch up the contrast in black-and-white. The effect is like an Arctic silver, where the blue acts almost as a second white, or like old-fashioned laundry blue-ing. Quite a few designers indulged in the Klondike-blue combo,like Richard Nicoll and Marios Schwab in London and Dries Van Noten in Paris.

Sky blue also crept up as its own fetching neutral. Every color-watcher knows blue is fast superseding green as the eco-color, and the blue-as-neutral fashion trend plays into the idea of nature’s baseline. Not only does blue allude to ice (from a rapidly melting glacier?), it also signals sky, oxygen, and clear, cold, running water. Pale blues are particularly handsome paired with a warm khaki, as in the tunic ensemble below by Peter Pilotto, from London. Also in London, Matthew Williamson paired sky blue with olive green and canary yellow for a brighter, although still discreetly balanced, contrast. Sky blue also peeked out from the frothy, very civilized excesses in John Galliano’s Paris show.

In their Milan collection, DSquared tried a squirt of minty-green for a similar injection of freshness (below).

And there ain’t nothing quite like a finger-skinny belt in a super-hot color this season. They’re almost too numerously snaky to count, but MaxMara in Milan was a particular fan, as was Burberry. Here’s a slice of silvery blue, girdling an iconic Burberry khaki in London:

Busy patterns got a thorough airing – or, you might say, a full-bore gasping. Paul Smith paired some high-volume patterns with shiny fabrics in London, while in Milan, Aquilano.Rimondi was digging a 1960s gingham-style, rather Holly Hobby-ish tripping on a half-lid. Keeping up the wily patchwork theme, but a bit more wearably was Erdem in London:

Continuing in the zanily-innovative-patterns category, this marriage of crazy-quilt with electric-orange piping from Christopher Kane’s collection in London was very nice:

Sometimes the most classic patterns are the best way to go bolder. In Milan, Versus played with clashing plaids, tiny gingham-style prints, and color-blocking outlined with a black Sharpie. Also in Milan, Jil Sanders’ fat, utterly clean B&W stripes were a clear, booming shout in an otherwise crowded theater. Bottega Veneta did gray diamonds on white, in a structured look reminiscent of crisp, wadded wrapping-paper. Gianfranco Ferré used wide black ribbons as an integral element in his ballgowns. Even though they were showing in Milan, Dolce&Gabbana’s collection feasted en plein air in French picnic-style, with copious cabbage roses and red tablecloth checks.

Quite a few designers morphed a classic pattern to either gigantic or miniature size: Junya Watanabe’s Paris collection, to name just one, featured almost exclusively black-and-white boat stripes at various unlikely magnitudes. Balenciaga dialed up houndstooth to oversize in Paris, while Giambattista Valli pixelated checks. Moschino’s Milan show stuck to tried-and-true color palettes: red-white-and-blue with a twist (pictured below; Christmas on the Fourth of July is a fad among graphic designers, too) and bumblebee-yellow with black-and-white. The latter two felt thrillingly busy – without tipping over into disjointed, sad, babblingly busy.

Also nice: these classic stripes by Marni, running pleasantly amok in Milan:

Limiting yourself to a recognizable pattern type or color-palette liberates you for experimentation in other areas. Tons of designers leaned heavily on black-and-white this season, but mixing in unexpected textures, outfits that could’ve looked like grainy war-footage instead offered loft, touchability, and dimension. (Presumably also a monstro dry-cleaning bill, for all those competing fabrics.) Those in the black-and-white-plus-texture camp included Givenchy in Paris and Pringle in London (below):

I’m sounding the clarion call right now: the future will be PURPLE. Only a few strategic splashes lit up runways for spring 2011, but personally I’m seeing plum, fuchsia, and all the grape-y shades of ripeness in other fronts. And why not? Purple suits everybody: it can be effortlessly dialed more towards blue undertones, for us palefaces, or more towards red, for yellow-based skintones. It’s royal, it’s rebellious, and, even if you’re wrapped in purple rags n’ ribbons, it’s definitely rich – in hue, if nothing else. Here’s a nice shot of wine polka-dots by Paul Smith in London:

MaxMara in Milan favored a plummier shade, as did Rochas in Paris. Nobody leaned too heavily on purple – a discreet shot of royalty signals hope without holleri
ng “Recovery Accomplished” at exactly the wrong time. Below is Christian Dior playing purple close to his vest as an accent color, in Paris:

Both showing in Milan, Gucci and Fendi demonstrated how strangely versatile purple can be. It goes great with tangerine orange, pistaschio green, minty blue-green and canary yellow, even cherry-red and oxblood as Fendi offers here:

Some color trends suffer accelerated burnout. My (arguable) case-in-point is the new penchant for International Yves Klein Blue, known in its unpatented state as electric or midnight blue. It’s a shot of adrenaline where fatigue sets in almost immediately afterwards. Most consumers don’t have the bucks to buy clothes with so little staying power. Also, frankly, aren’t we all already exhausted and beat-up-feeling? Why, then, would I gravitate towards anything in Giorgio Armani’s entire Milan collection, where nearly every outfit paired electric blue with black, a dark statement akin to bruises. Also on the fan-list for electric blue: Jil Sander and Fendi in Milan, Haider Ackermann in Paris.

Other colors stand out precisely because you wonder why they haven’t gotten more exposure lately. Your eye simply craves them from a recent lack of exposure. If purple pushes onto the comeback, it should bring with it dark greens like this kelly-green ensemble by Akris in Paris:

Also nice in its various subtler shades is flame-pink, rendered softer in berry shades here by Costume National in Paris:

Also in Paris, Isabel Marant dialed her flame-pink more towards red, desaturated to take away its brick-like associations (below):

It’s fascinating to follow how color progresses along a daisy-chain in fashion. If your closet has been full of grays with pale-yellow, as shoppers from last season can attest, the march of super-pastels, purples and pistaschio, pale-blue and tangerine, plus black-and-white graphics will propel your current wardrobe, each in its own particular direction. The colors that have exhausted your eye will vanish, mercifully timed to the durability of the average dud’s lifecycle. Make way for spring! Its colors are already trooping in.

[This article is also available as a slideshow thanks to our friends over at StyleCaster. Check it daily for more amazing looks! Images via]