What happened to refined fabric colour, those hues of piquant vivacity or delicate subtlety? Too often garments lack depth and richness, and what is sadder than a lacklustre red? Even neutrals like grey suffer under forlorn dye; if you do find an ethereal grey, most others suffer by comparison (and you might be holding an Armani blouse.)
Garment colour is a synergy between the fiber and its dye; some fibers take dye beautifully while others seem to resist, but, outside the luxury level, the full splendour of colour is released only occasionally.
The lone luminous example of forget-me-not blue seems to be owned by Lapo Elkann. The Italians (Elkann's tailors, and this is the luxe level) still care, but European heritage mills are closing by the year.
Generally, dye quality is proportional to price point, but some mid-range merchants, such as Boden, deliver departures from the usual-suspect shades. (The overall garment quality is another story.)
The subtle greyed lavender of their Chelsea trousers is notable even if one cannot wear it:
Meanwhile the usual suspects like Talbot's and LL Bean see fit to unleash some um, challenging colours on the world. Whatever her colouring, a woman over 50 can look hard in harsh hues. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who can rock Bold Orchid?
I still miss an Issey Miyake cotton tunic I owned years ago, the colour of an oyster shell crossed with a pinch of late-sunset mauve. These days, I have defaulted to the banality of a great deal of navy, black and grey—which on good days feels like I've found 'my uniform' and on bad, seems like I lost my colour wheel.
Those neutrals, along with the ecru-through-camel range, are reliable base notes, but where is the pink that's inside a sea shell, or the intersection of blue with purple that conjures twilight?
Even with black, a quality black reads differently than a flat dye job; I would love to turn 70 in this Altuzarra fringed crepe blazer. (I have just over three years to save.)
This spring, the lilt of a sublime, unexpected combination is a scarce songbird, occasionally glimpsed amid piles of navy-and-white. Kisses to Brora simply for making a linen and cotton sweater in salmon and wisteria.
I am not just talking pale colours, sister, but the mid-saturation hues where superior dye struts its stuff.
J. Crew offer some hard-to find-shades every season. They're showing a good deal of metallic gold this spring, but for those who prefer deeper palettes, they propose metallic navy. Don't see that every day!
Given my budget, I have better luck buying a neutral top and counting on gems, from precious to glass, to add refined colour. The strategy justifies spending, because a magical piece lifts those neutrals year-round. Splurge a bit for gem quality, which, just like fabric dye, dispirits at the low end.
Shown: chiara b atelier aquamarine, morganite and pearl necklace; price, $1,050.
If clothes are an emblem of our identity, colour is the flag. Why is beautiful colour is so hard to find, given the vast marketplace?
Too often, I end up with generic items in generic colours. I'm more than ready to crawl out of my city security blanket of black. But I want that coloured item to be so heady, so indelibly interesting that I can see it with my eyes closed.
Just after I wrote that last paragraph, the textile expert and photographer Jan Becker, pinged me from Delhi. She sent a dose of thrilling colour via photos of the progress of her mixed silk ikat-and-print scarves, each one designed by Jan, who has a musical touch with colour, if that makes sense.
I'm bugging her to open an Etsy shop! Since she visits the Passage, maybe you would like to second the idea?