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The Color Revolution

The Color Revolution

Regina Lee Blaszczyk
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    The Color Revolution
    Book Description:

    When the fashion industry declares that lime green is the new black, or instructs us to "think pink!," it is not the result of a backroom deal forged by a secretive cabal of fashion journalists, designers, manufacturers, and the editor of Vogue. It is the latest development of a color revolution that has been unfolding for more than a century. In this book, the award-winning historian Regina Lee Blaszczyk traces the relationship of color and commerce, from haute couture to automobile showrooms to interior design, describing the often unrecognized role of the color profession in consumer culture. Blaszczyk examines the evolution of the color profession from 1850 to 1970, telling the stories of innovators who managed the color cornucopia that modern artificial dyes and pigments made possible. These "color stylists," "color forecasters," and "color engineers" helped corporations understand the art of illusion and the psychology of color. Blaszczyk describes the strategic burst of color that took place in the 1920s, when General Motors introduced a bright blue sedan to compete with Ford's all-black Model T and when housewares became available in a range of brilliant hues. She explains the process of color forecasting--not a conspiracy to manipulate hapless consumers but a careful reading of cultural trends and consumer taste. And she shows how color information flowed from the fashion houses of Paris to textile mills in New Jersey. Today professional colorists are part of design management teams at such global corporations as Hilton, Disney, and Toyota. The Color Revolution tells the history of how colorists help industry capture the hearts and dollars of consumers.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30534-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-x)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Arthur Molella and Joyce Bedi

    Invention and innovation have long been recognized as significant forces in American history, not only in technological realms but also as models in politics, society, and culture. And they are arguably more important than previously thought in other societies as well. What there is no question about is that they have become the universal watchwords of the twenty-first century, so much so that nations are staking their futures on them.

    Since 1995, the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center has been investigating the history of invention and innovation from such broad interdisciplinary perspectives. So, too, does this series. The Lemelson Center Studies in...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Just three months after the stock market crash of 1929, the business magazineFortunepublished an effusive celebration of American enterprise that included an article titled “Color in Industry.” The editors marveled over the “suddenly kaleidoscopic world” in which color served as “a master salesman, a distributor extraordinary.” In the 1920s, manufacturers had flooded the market with apricot autos, blue beds, and mauve mops. Color was now seen as a tool for tapping into human emotions and improving daily life.Fortunegave this phenomenon a name: “the color revolution.”¹

    What was revolutionary about this sudden burst of color? In 1923,...

  6. 1 Mauve Mania
    (pp. 21-44)

    The wedding of Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s oldest child, was the talk of all Europe in 1858. The royal nuptials fed Britain’s craving for pomp and pageantry, and journalists braved the January cold to watch the bridal procession from Buckingham Palace to the Chapel Royal in St. James’s Palace. Banners and flags lined Pall Mall, creating a festive path for the royal carriages. By 2 o’clock the chapel was packed with dukes and duchesses. The princess looked angelic in an antique white moiré dress trimmed in orange and myrtle, but the queen stole the day. TheIllustrated London Newsgushed:...

  7. 2 Anarchy
    (pp. 45-70)

    In August of 1898, Albert H. Munsell, a professor of drawing at the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston, was sketching at Smuttynose, an island off the coast of New Hampshire, when thunderclouds rolled in. Munsell had been attracted to Smuttynose by its dazzling sunsets, thick mists, and dramatic lightning, and he returned most summers to study the magenta-orange sunsets and purple-gray storm clouds. On this day, as the weather changed, he captured nature’s fury in a sketch called “War Cloud”—and then had one of those “eureka” moments famous in the history of invention. Back in his studio, he...

  8. 3 Nationalism
    (pp. 71-93)

    World War I forever changed the global political and economic landscape, turning the United States from an isolationist nation to a leading world power. Previously, American industrialization had paralleled that of Germany, with both countries trailing behind Great Britain. Although the United States did not join the Allies until April of 1917, the outbreak of hostilities in August of 1914 affected domestic manufacturing and international trade immediately. Shortages of European imports forced American industries to develop new alliances, skills, and technologies.

    With respect to color, industry and commerce coped with the crisis in a variety of ways. Albert Munsell had...

  9. 4 Hide and Seek
    (pp. 95-113)

    “American artists, join the camouflage!” exclaimed H. Ledyard Towle in theNew York Timesin June of 1917. Towle was a prime mover in the Camouflage Society of New York, a civilian group formed to mobilize visual artists for national defense. “Camouflage” (a French word meaning “puffing smoke”) referred to techniques developed on the Western Front to conceal men and materiel from the enemy. Trained as a portrait and landscape painter, Towle helped the U.S. Army to recruit and train artists in “the great game of hocus-pocus” and eventually went to France as a machine gunner and front-line camoufleur. Such...

  10. 5 True Blue
    (pp. 115-138)

    H. Ledyard Towle, camoufleur extraordinaire, was the founding director of the Duco Color Advisory Service in New York, a styling division of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company. During the early 1920s, DuPont and the General Motors Corporation collaborated to develop Duco Finish, a quick-drying, durable, and inexpensive nitrocellulose lacquer that modernized automotive coatings. For the first time, massproduced cars rolled off the assembly line in brilliant colors. As the creative leader behind Duco, Towle showed DuPont and General Motors how to design with color.¹

    As big business ventured into consumer goods, a need arose for fashion intermediaries...

  11. 6 Entente
    (pp. 139-162)

    Auto manufacturers pioneered a new use of color to meet and stimulate consumer demand, but they were not the only ones playing in that field. Practitioners in the emerging field of marketing pointed to the heightened color sensibilities of women, and new opportunities emerged for colorists to study and explain these consumers. Artists, interior decorators, textile designers, and publicists all claimed knowledge of color psychology and promoted themselves as experts on visual perception and consumer behavior. Visionary thinkers imagined the possibilities of a great French-American entente and of connecting American industry to modern art.

    In the 1920s, businesses wrestled with...

  12. 7 L’Ensemble américain
    (pp. 163-189)

    Born of spirited patriotism, the Textile Color Card Association faced new challenges as the American ready-to-wear industry expanded in the 1920s. New York apparel makers introduced easygoing “sporty apparel”—suits, blouses, and dresses in jerseys, rayon, and other modern fabrics—meant to be accessorized. Paris had inspired the trend; New York popularized it. As fashion became more affordable, American women took pride in assembling outfits that showed off their personal style, and learned to appreciate color accents in the process. The vogue for “ensemble dressing” created a need for color coordination across the fashion industries so that a woman’s ready-made...

  13. 8 Rainbow Cities
    (pp. 191-214)

    The color revolution turned the drab Victorian city into a brilliant modern showcase of terra cotta, electric light, sound, and paint. Expositions and world’s fairs, the great tourist attractions of the era, popularized electric lighting. Colorful architecture and bright colored lights came to be expected features of the urban landscape. A person might work in a terra-cotta skyscraper, watch a projected light show in the theater prior to the movie at a Saturday matinee, and listen to “colorful” symphonic sounds on a parlor radio. New public buildings, whether classical or Art Deco in style, were colorized and modernized with electric...

  14. 9 Mood Conditioning
    (pp. 215-240)

    Functional color was a new practice that came into focus around the time of World War II. Advocates of functional color saw color as having the potential to improve safety and comfort in hospitals, factories, offices, and schools. They colorized interiors to achieve relief from eyestrain and fatigue, lower accident rates, and greater productivity. In other words, they used color to generate tangible results. The new functional colorists had no artistic pretensions. The judicious use of color could produce a visually pleasing interior, but mood conditioning was the ultimate goal.

    Multiple interests were addressed by the concept of functional color,...

  15. 10 Sunshine Yellow
    (pp. 241-264)

    On July 24, 1959, Vice-President Richard Nixon of the United States and Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union toured the American National Exhibition outside Moscow and stopped inside a model home nicknamed “Splitnik.” Furnished by Macy’s, the prefabricated house showcased the American standard of living and the aspirations of a typical working family who could buy a comparable home for $13,000 (equal to just under $100,000 in 2010). A publicist directed the dignitaries to the kitchen, where they faced off next to a Sunshine Yellow General Electric washer-dryer.¹ In 1960, in the United States, a left-leaning journalist launched the...

  16. 11 Think Pink!
    (pp. 265-288)

    In the 1957 movieFunny Face,Kay Thompson plays Maggie Prescott, a New York fashion editor who storms across her office atQualitymagazine and orders everyone to “think pink.” In a song-and-dance routine, the character predicts that, while the French couturier Christian Dior likes the color rust, American consumers will revel in the red lipsticks, coral swimsuits, and fuchsia frocks worn by the models Suzy Parker and Sunny Hartnett in aQualityfashion show.Funny Facepopularizes the idea that fashion colors originate with a creative genius who uses the media to impose her tastes on consumers.¹ WasFunny...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 289-298)

    The age of color, the auto age, the industrial age, the modern age, the urban age—these names have been used to describe the period that has been the focus of this book: the 1890s through the 1960s. The color revolution was born of this particular time and place, a transnational offspring of European and American parents. It was conceived in Paris, London, and Ludwigshafen, took its first steps in Boston, and matured in New York and Detroit. American colorists took inspiration from European styles, both high and low, as they created palettes for the vast American mass market and...

  18. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 299-302)
  19. Abbreviations Used in References
    (pp. 303-310)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 311-348)
  21. Index
    (pp. 349-380)