Numerous fashion companies have adopted a color as their signature, sometimes even ingraining it into the collective unconscious. Examples include Schiaparelli’s “shocking” pink, Margiela’s white, Fendi’s yellow, and Valentino’s red. We examine the history of the six most well-known colors in modern fashion.
Why does the color red come to mind when we think of Valentino? How did yellow come to be the signature color of Fendi? In the history of the House of Margiela, what role does white play? These inquiries verify that a fashion company frequently uses color to leave its mark on the collective unconscious, even when it isn’t evident from the logo, iconic items of clothing, or accessories. Color is more instantly recognizable than a name, typeface, or illustration on apparel, advertisements, or packaging. It also grabs our attention and makes an impression on us even before we realize it. Some houses have become so used to this visual lexicon that a single color now evokes their name (fired orange, which now rhymes with Hermès, for example). However, stories, random meetings, personal obsessions, or even the overt emergence of a true philosophy—as in Yohji Yamamoto’s work with black—hide underneath these symbolic hues. Numéro might interpret six.
Fendi was founded in Rome in 1925 and has specialized in bags and fur above anything else. Even though the Italian brand has been well-known for over a century, it also brings a color range typical of this uncommon natural material, which varies based on the fur used and ranges from diverse red, brown, beige, and gray tones. However, thirty years ago, a warm, thick yellow that falls between buttercup and straw was added to the Fendi color palette, eventually becoming the brand’s hallmark. The material that covered many trunks and suitcases in the 1930s served as the inspiration for the color pergamena, or parchment in Italian. Before house packaging embraced it, it first appeared subtly on a few designs of nylon and leather bags. Before the house packaging embraced it, it first appeared subtly on a few designs of nylon and leather bags. From there, it returned methodically to each accessory collection and boldly invited itself onto clothing: for its fall-winter 2012 collection, Karl Lagerfeld and Silvia Venturini Fendi unveiled a vibrant fur coat swathed in this brilliant yellow. More recently, the house’s creative director turned the now-famous stiff paper shopping bags and Fendi cardboard boxes into remarkable leather accessories, all in this iconic color, for the men’s fall-winter 2020–2021 collection.
2. Hermès: a lucky coincidence, orange
Hermès and orange are now inseparable. But this warm, bright color was distant from the house’s initial aims. To honor this tradition, the earliest Hermès boxes were manufactured on beige-brown fine-grain paper in the 1920s. Emile-Maurice Hermès intended to make brown his signature color in the 19th century, mimicking the leather for which its goods are renowned. The Second World War then broke out. Due to limitations in its material supply, Hermès was compelled to choose orange, the only color available at the time, for its cardboard packaging. Gradually, the hue—frequently combined with the brown of the house’s superb leathers—became as iconic as the renowned heraldic horse for the boxes and ribbons that adorned them. Almost 900 various sizes of containers—from the tiniest to the largest, from the roundest to the squarest—are decorated with Hermès orange nowadays, to the extent that the boxes themselves have developed into collector’s items that fetch significant sums on the secondary market. Regarding clothing, people sometimes appreciate a hint of orange, as shown in this sophisticated fine wool turtleneck from the autumn/winter 2019–2020 collection.
3. Valentino: the color red, an actual fixation
“Red is a fascinating color; it is life, the blood of death, passion, love, and the ultimate remedy for sadness and gloom.” In the words of Mr. Valentino Garavani, the founder of the renowned design brand that bears his name since 1959, this is an ideal summation. Because, in the opinion of the Italian designer, the secret history of a genuine aesthetic feeling is at the core of red’s strength. When the young man was a student in Barcelona, he went to the opera one evening and noticed an older woman whose attractiveness attracted him in a dressing room. How come? The contrast between her dark red velvet dress and the gray of her hair—a color that many other onlookers that evening also wore—was striking. Subsequently, the paint began to feature in his collections and imagination, where it has been associated with femininity, strength, and fatality for decades. We even refer to this poppy-colored color as “Valentino red” when describing it. It may be worn as a body wrap, matte or satin-finished, simple, pleated or embroidered, transparent or opaque. Valentino Garavani left his position as artistic director of his house at the beginning of 2008. At the end of his farewell haute fashion show, the designer appeared to meet his models, all of whom were wearing the same asymmetrically fitting crimson dress cinched beneath the breast. A beautiful farewell that leaves eternal color in the capable hands of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli
4. Schiaparelli: a bold choice in pink
The name Elsa Schiaparelli gave to the fuchsia pink that would come to define her masterpieces was shocking. When she noticed a vibrant pink, the Italian designer was looking for textiles for her following collection in 1936, nine years after starting her fashion firm in Paris. She remembered, “The color flashed before my eyes” in 1954. “A color from China and Peru but not from the West; brilliant, impossible, brazen, becoming, invigorating, like all the birds and fish of the world combined.” A striking hue that is unadulterated and pure” With the eccentric and joyful spirit it exuded at the start of World War II, pink quickly took over the house’s dresses. IThe Lesage house embroidered it with golden sequins, shards, and metallic threads to create a sun with a human face on an opulent terry cloth cape in 1938, which became its most well-known example.In 1937, the designer paid homage to her signature color, pink, by tinting her perfume “Shocking” in that hue. Daniel Roseberry, Schiaparelli’s artistic director for the last two years, has taken over this foundational aspect of the business, characterizing it as “very modern” and a testament to Elsa Schiaparelli’s influence on fashion. “We will gradually start exploring Shocking Pink in new and perhaps even shocking ways.” A short pink dress from his recently unveiled haute couture line appears to have already taken this step. The outfit is fully embroidered with glass tubes on a mold with exaggerated musculature.
5. Maison Margiela: white is a symbol of authenticity.
All you must do is go into a Margiela store in Paris, Tokyo, or Shanghai to realize that white is the brand’s hallmark color. Martin Margiela launched the company in 1989. For example, it is instantly visible in the painting of the piled tires surrounding the store door to the bookshop at the rear of the room, the clothing rails, and even the billiard table with garments on sale behind the Palais Royal in the French capital. Since the 1990s, the renowned Belgian designer has been repainting his repurposed clothing and shoes in the same shade of white to bring a fresh look to preexisting pieces and add a distinctive texture. This aesthetic prejudice is brought to a new level in the house’s ateliers, where every wall and part of raw furniture matches this one fantastic color, even though the chairs don’t since they are covered in a spotless covering. The staff members all dress in white coats that resemble lab coats daily. And in one of the most memorable fashion shows ever, when a few of them went public with the spring-summer 1998 collection, they were all dressed in this uniform, which served a dual purpose of practicality and symbolism, representing, along with the models’ masks, the longing for unnoticeability that Martin Margiela had always yearned for. According to Olivier Saillard, “to the cultivated and overexposed ‘I,’ he prefers the anonymity of the white jacket that everyone in his house wears with pride of belonging.” The final evidence may be found in the four white threads on the back of every Margiela item of clothing. These threads covertly indicate a label only recognized by those with inside knowledge.
6. Yohji Yamamoto: the idea of black fashion
Black is the one color that every fashion designer has utilized, if there is one. Esteemed for its ageless grace, versatility, opulent feel, profundity, and somber undertones, it reappears yearly in most apparel and accessory lines, where it assumes a relatively subdued function until it assumes a dominant position. Despite his success in defying trends, Yohji Yamamoto has been the master of black culture exploitation. The Japanese designer has made it his favorite color since launching his brand in 1972, creating a true artistic statement. During the 1940s and 1950s, the young man’s imagination was formed by his mother’s sad and black clothes, which she wore when grieving her husband’s loss.
Additionally, the metropolitan life in the center of Tokyo, with its vibrant colors, lights, and visual stimulation, also contributed to his feeling of purity. His initial designs were black T-shirts, which he boldly flaunted around the capital city as a statement against the rise in the economy. The pieces he subsequently envisioned, which are frequently engulfing, employ black to radicalize and essentialize the silhouette, to depict a quiet fight between the body and surroundings, and to blur gender lines. Fifty years after making his formal debut, the designer is still all about embracing black, from his garments to his visual identity, and he even throws in the odd splash of color. However, he admits resignedly that “black always wins in the end.” It is capable of sucking light or cutting objects. Above all, though, black says, ‘Don’t bother me either; I don’t bother you.”
- Fendi’s signature color, a warm yellow called pergamena, was inspired by the material used to wrap trunks and suitcases in the 1930s, and it became a hallmark for the brand, appearing in various collections and even transforming accessories like leather bags and cardboard boxes.
- Hermès adopted the iconic orange color during World War II due to material supply limitations, and it gradually became inseparable from the brand, featuring prominently in packaging, ribbons, and even clothing, with almost 900 different sizes of containers decorated in Hermès orange.
- Valentino’s fixation on the color red stems from founder Valentino Garavani’s personal experience at an opera in Barcelona, where he was struck by the contrast between a woman’s dark red velvet dress and her gray hair. This led to the association of red with femininity, strength, and passion, and the term “Valentino red” is now commonly used to describe this distinctive shade.
- Maison Margiela’s use of white serves as a symbol of authenticity, with the color being a hallmark across the brand’s stores, repurposed clothing, and even the attire of staff. The prevalence of white reflects Martin Margiela’s preference for anonymity and a longing for unnoticeability in the fashion world.