“size 4, in cement”

In rearranging papers last night, I came across this color chart from the English paint company Farrow & Ball (a section, above). There are a number of reasons why this is one of my favorite things of recent era: it's a combination of taxonomy, pure aesthetics, fanciful word-names and allusive, meandering explanatory text that spurs more questions than it answers. For example, there is a color called "Monkey Puzzle," a very dark green-gray.
The description reads:
A typical 19th century estate color which has, like so many successful colours, endured down the generations. Good with both brick and stone, and indeed furniture.
Another color, “Dauphin,” I realize in hindsight, is given a very elliptical explanation:
An earth pigment colour in the early 18th century school of ‘drab’
First, “school of ‘drab’” is just so... perfect, so Edward Gorey... second, how does one get “Dauphin” for a khaki olive brown? After some investigation, I see perhaps F&B are too genteel to explain that the color ‘caca-dauphin’ became fashionable when the much-longed-for French crown prince was born to Marie Antoinette, in the 1780s. Ah, Dauphin's Poo. With colors like "Ointment Pink", "Dead Salmon", "Archive", and "Mouse’s Back" how can you not want to know everything about this company?

Creating color names would be my dream job. I remember thinking this in-- what, the early 90s?-- when JCrew was changing popular culture with sweater choices like "Pool" and "Cement." Precious, yes, but in a certain way, how brilliant was that moment? [Didn't Saturday Night Live do a skit? Not sure. But its so easy for color-naming like that to go very, ham-handedly wrong]. Women’s cosmetics did interesting things with color naming but mostly of the punny, "Tickle Me Pink" and expected "Red Wine" variety. Before J Crew: "blue"and "grey", after: the welkin's the limit!
some interesting color words: gamboge, filemot, glaucous, dun


Merteuil said...

I wanted to be a color-namer, too! Especially for a cosmetics company. For years I've collected paint cards from hardware stores because I love the hundreds of subtle hue variations and the delicious names.

I have a card hanging on my inspiration wall - it's several shades of buttery ivories, with names like Honey Moon, Ivory Palace, Moonscape, and Halo. Next to it is a sample card of deep warm greys, with names like Silver Service, Pewter Mug, and Phantom Hue.

Anyway, I don't know if you'll ever see this comment, but I enjoyed this entry. I found it by Googling "caca Dauphin." Why was I googling that? It was a textile color name on a very beautiful 18th century costume sales site, Chenilles et Papillons:


angela said...

That costume site is fabulous!

The hardware store just down the block opened a new paint swatch area... I think I will be raiding it mercilessly.

A further investigation of color naming deserves another post methinks.

Thanks for commenting!


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