Throughout history, the color black has always had many meanings behind it – it was a symbol of power, death, sexuality, but also of beauty. And fashion designers made full use of the opportunity. Christian Dior said that black “thins” us, and Coco Chanel preferred it over other shades.
Cristobal Balenciaga (1895 – 1972) was the designer of the rich and monarchs (Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy or Audrey Hepburn). Named as the “master” in the high circles of the luxury industry and known as the “designer of designers”, Balenciaga completely changed the vision of this color, until then it was only used for funerals, according to BBC Culture.
“He used black more than any other fashion designer; and used it in a completely different way,” said the curator of the exhibition dedicated to Balenciaga, inaugurated to mark the 50th anniversary of the designer’s death.
“Little black dress”, the concept that started from the charm for black
Coco Chanel, a good friend of Balenciaga, was also captivated by black. The proof is the little dress, created in 1920, which has already become famous, giving birth to the concept known worldwide as “Little back dress”.
“The dress was actually like a canvas to get you through the day. If you changed your accessories, your black dress was perfect for all occasions. This is a completely different approach from Balenciaga, which used black as the main part of the creation,” the curator added.
But it wasn’t just Balenciaga who showed enthusiasm for black. Dolce & Gabbana, Versace and Yohji Yamamoto had collections dedicated entirely to black. After all, black sells—both on the catwalk and in stores. And t-shirt designers like Bonfire and Spreadshirt have pointed out that every other color pales in comparison to black.
The color black is related to the survival instinct
The charm of this color is actually related to the survival instinct, explained the writer and critic John Harvey, author of the book “The Story of Black”.
“Cells inside the eye send electrical signals when they encounter light and dark. In ancient times, it was important to observe dark spaces; maybe they were dangerous or maybe they were safe – for example, they could represent places to hide. (…) Our eyes see black in a very intense way. It may be a non-color from a certain point of view, but it is also the strongest color,” says the writer.
Besides that, black is also extremely practical. Many of the Islamic countries use dark colors in clothing. Draped garments such as the twab (ankle-length robe with long sleeves) or the abaya (long women’s dress) create a thermal convection of cool air through the layers of black material.
Also, black has the power to intimidate. In 16th century Russia, Ivan the Terrible’s secret police were dressed exclusively in black. And a few centuries later, the SS soldiers, led by Heinrich Himmler, wore all black to inspire fear.
And subcultures – such as rockers, punks or goths – also chose black to show their protest against social conventions and to express their vivacity.
But this color has always had a duality. On the one hand, black denotes class, good status and distinction, and on the other hand, it is also the symbol of humility, obedience and dedication.
And the difference between the two lies in the material from which the fabrics are made.