Required Reading – Black: The History of a Color

Black: The History of a Color, by Michel Pastoureau

Michel Pastoureau begins his book Black: The History of a Color with a Biblical quote:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void. Darkness was upon the face of the deep… God said, ‘Let there be light”.

The color black has been a part of our collective pysche since the beginning of time. With a thorough text and a beautifully curated set of images, Pastoureau, a Historian at the Sarbonne, examines how over the centuries, the meaning and influence of the color has fluctuated in relation to culture, art and dress.

Prior to the year 1000, black was easily accepted as clothing. But in the early Christian period, black became less a color for everyday life and took on an association with the devilish and infernal. In medieval times, black was symbolic of wealth, royalty and luxury, before swinging back to the gloom and depression of the Romantic Period (think Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven). In the 20th century, black and white film, photography and print elevated black once again.

As acceptability and perception have shifted over time, today we see black as a dual personality: the proper, businesslike, modern, sleek color of the little black dress and the business suit is the same as the dark, rebellious, dangerous color of the gothic and the undergound. Black reflects the duality of human values in our modern society. Much like Pastoureau looks at broad historical periods to identify how perceptions of black have changed over time, designers are also required to look at trends in society each season and determine how to use the color black in a collection. Keep your eye on the runway during fashion week and you’ll start to see exactly how this translates into fashion.

Pick up a copy from Princeton University Press or Amazon.

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