An old rose by another name…

In Fashion shows on December 28, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Did you all have a lovely Christmas? I did. And thank God it’s over for another year ha ha ha.

And did you all have lovely presents? My best one was given to me by my lovely brother, Nick. It’s a copy of the collected Molesworth books, signed personally to me, by the legendary illustrator Ronald Searle.

I cried when I opened it. I keep going to check it’s still there, as I can’t quite believe I own such a special thing. When I’m a bit more together in the New Year, I’ll scan the inscription in and put it on my other blog, which is all about books.

Meanwhile, here is your mid-week archives special. I’m not sure when it dates from, probably around 2005.

Loewe autumn/winter 2007

One of the great challenges of covering the European fashion shows for a daily newspaper – apart from trying to see whether that black fabric is leather, PVC, or duchess satin, from the 8th row in a very dark disused factory behind a very tall person wearing a large hat – is naming the colours as you see them.

The outfits come and go incredibly fast and if you don’t get the exact shade down in your notes right then you certainly won’t remember 12 hours later when you are back in your hotel room tapping out a 350 word story for a fast approaching news deadline, having seen five other fashion shows in between.

Especially as you will (if you are me) have spent the previous 35 minutes weeping down your mobile phone to technical help trying to make your global roaming work. And you might have had a glass of wine or two with dinner. Hic.

Naming colours is part personal code and part reportage – the idea is that the scribbled note will trigger your own memory, but you also want other people to know what you mean by ‘bilberry’, in relation to a pair of satin knickerbockers and to be able to summon up an instant mental image of the particular shade of rich greeny blue known as ‘teal’.

I have often thought about this process as I scribble ‘donkey’, ‘cocoa’, ‘mud’, ‘snuff’ and ‘tobacco’ in relation to various shades of brown (and believe me you needed to speak fluent brown in Milan last season), but I’d never discussed it with anyone else until the Loewe show in Paris this March.

A lot of the clothes in this rather unsatisfying collection were in a very specific dirty pink. It reminded me of the colour of old plastic dolls’ legs, the kind with matted hair you find in charity shops, but that was too long to write down. It also was a little like unwashed 1920s corset. A 1950s shop window dummy. Greying sticking plaster.

After the show I was discussing this ticklish shade with a fellow fashion journo and she called it ‘Calamine lotion’ which delighted me. A perfect precise description of a dusty flesh pink with lots of white in it, which made you feel a bit queasy. And quicker to write than the dolls’ legs thing.

Some fashion houses do supply notes on the garments they are showing which are very helpful and I always love reading their names for the colours – the more fanciful the better – but what I had never thought of until now is comparing them to what I had written.

The notes for the Loewe show called that dirty dolls’ legs pink ‘old rose’ which I thought was pushing it a bit. Very old rose. Very old unloved rose. Very old and possibly smelly unloved rose in the bottom of a damp cardboard box in the back of a shed behind an empty house where dead dogs could lurk.

Other colours detailed in that show’s notes were: chestnut, caramel, peach, Havana, chalk, bronze and moss (and black, of course, but that hardly merits notation, it’s just assumed). Looking back at my notebook I had called them: tan, toffee, biscuit, tobacco, putty and, yes, moss. I don’t know what happened to the bronze. I must have been blinking when the ‘bronze ribbon dress’ sashayed past.

Considering how subjective colour appreciation is, I’m actually quite amazed how close my descriptions are to the official ones. ‘Caramel’ and ‘toffee’ are clearly the same colour, as are ‘Havana’ and ‘tobacco’, although ‘putty’ is a slightly duller shade of grey white, than the more pristine ‘chalk’ and must have reflected my sinking feeling about the clothes in that collection.

Although it could have been worse. Flicking through my notes I have found one show where I described a colour as ‘baby poo’.

Ointment Pink



Three colours from the masters of subtle shades – and naming them – Farrow and Ball.

  1. I think your doll’s leg description is perfect – I can see it. I also love Calamine Lotion. Does anyone use this any more? I remember my mother putting this on me when I was a child (a long time ago, but it seems like yesterday)when I had been bitten by a nasty insect.

  2. Signed personally by Ronald Searle?? Chiz Chiz.

  3. That colour “ointment pink” took me back to time spent in England as a child. In our medicine cabinet was a tin of antiseptic ointment that very colour! It followed us back to Australia and outlasted my childhood. I can still remember it’s smell though!

  4. Maggie, your interpretations of the browns were masterly! And easily as clear as the originals.
    How pretty the subtle colours look in the colour wheel, and how sad by themselves. Ah yes, calamine lotion, the ointment of my youth … As I recall it didn’t work in the soothing department and made already horrid insect bites look positively yukky.

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