28 January 2014

what's in a Name?


I confess-I hated mauve back in the 80’s when I was just beginning to put colors together for would be clients. Hearing that worn phrase-oh so comforting to women-“blue and mauve,” I shuddered. From its glorious beginning in the 1850’s, then described as a shade of purple, it had been watered down so many times that by the Disco Era-it was sinking into a dismal cesspool where all ugly colors go to die.

In order to cleanse my lexicon of Mauve-I began to think of it as plum-lilac-thistle-violet. It worked. I’ve used the color in my own rooms since I’ve had my own rooms.

As a child I’d been fascinated by my great Aunt Maude’s color choices in her uniquely austere fashion sense. She was great-and she was impeccably turned out-albeit always in a dusky shade of the great color Mauve. Of course-my mother, nor my grandmother (standing alongside Maude in their lively Villager printed shirtwaists) asked about her costume, but I know they wondered. I certainly did.

You see Aunt Maude was old school, old Maryland, old aristocrat. Though the money was long gone by the time my grandfather was photographed on the porch of their home when tall Maude wed-in white naturally. When she was widowed the weeds turned to varied shades of that color- as my prickly aesthetic sensibilities struggled to call it-Mauve. I knew as a 10 year old there was something special about Maude-it turns out it was Mauve.

When the handsome 18 year old chemist William Perkin stumbled onto the color Mauve in his makeshift laboratory, 1858-it was a thing of beauty. The quasi-artist had been experimenting outside the rigors of his Royal College chemistry studies in hopes of discovering something else. That “else” doesn’t matter, the fashionable women and dandies of the 19th century fell in love with Perkin’s “strangely beautiful colour.” His laboratory was makeshift-romantic even. According to  Simon Garfield his biographer, Perkin was “surrounded by landscape paintings and early photographs, and jugs and mugs, and other domestic trinkets that were as alien to a laboratory as delicate soda crystals were to any other house in this smoky residential neighbourhood.”
What a set up for the mercurial fantasies of photographer Tim Walker. 
I can see it now.

In 1906, fifty years after his discovery, the Mauve millionaire Perkin was in New York to be lauded over by American bigwigs that had no doubt gotten fat on Mauve and wanted to spread the love thank you Mauve, to William Perkin. The scene was Delmonico’s, the Belle Époque was on the wane, but four hundred gentlemen turned out that night to honour the man and his achievement wearing black tie, however this night the tie was Mauve, all 400 hundred dyed especially for the occasion. Perkin had to be pleased. A man in Mauve is a thing to behold-while four hundred had to be a feast for the eyes.

This year Pantone has stepped in to name the color of the year- Radiant Orchid, that’s Mauve to William Perkin and me.  Mauve is crawling out of the water and back into fashion-returning to its strange saturated best. Gone is that 1980’s Mauve  I hated and I call it like I see it-not mood ring “Radiant Orchid”-but Maude’s Mauve- that’s how I knew it & loved it as a child.

William Perkin's Mauve colors
Collage of rooms, my own, John Singer Sargent, Blanche
Family photograph
Rochas gown
Tim Walker Horse of a different color
Collage of Blanche,  Ensor, Maverick in Mauve, Winterhalter, Pauline de Rothschild Dior gown, Valentina, Jackson Pollock, Uccello, Nicholas Haslam fabric, Perkin patent, Audrey Hepburn in Vogue, Hamish Bowles, Madame Recamier's Boudoir,1802.



  1. I love Mauve, especially when it's so gray that you don't know whether to call it "gray" or "mauve"/
    xoxo Mary

    1. Mary, I think names do matter. I have to do the readjustment to remember MAUVE as Perkin intended it-and that makes me happy! there are some wonderful names that qualify. I don't think Radiant Orchid is one!

  2. WOW! I HAD A CLIENT WHO MENTIONED "MAUVE" IN FRONT Of me and the supervisor of an enormous project!!! '" I went completely ballistic! "EWW!! Menopause Mauve" EEEK!! And she turned to the supervisor.....and said......"See! That is what she does!"

    You never know when you are being tested! Always be yourself and tell the real truth when asked!!


    1. thinking of the intent of Perkin's Mauve-I love it and embrace it. I am redecorating right now and dropping it here and there in pillows and a chair at the least. pgt

  3. The more I see of Mauve ..the more the colour is ..shades and more shades.. Those Winterhalter portraits have a life of their own .that's a mauve dress !

    1. smr, Winterhalter certainly understood it! I love his dreamy portraits. pgt

  4. I have trouble not equating it with those days of 'dusty rose' and 'sea foam green' decorating.



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