Wearing purple is a statement, but not usually one about style. In Jenny Joseph’s poem it is the colour you will wear, defiantly, when you are an old woman. It is the colour of which Alice Walker says, it “pisses God off if you walk by… in a field somewhere and don’t notice it”. It is the colour of goths and glam rockers, popes and bishops, princes and Prince. The Victorians used lilac for half-mourning, which makes sense when you consider the way it always seems a little off-key, among the sweetness of other pastels.
Purple, lilac and lavender were put back on the fashion slate when Miuccia Prada piled her spring catwalk with sand in a lurid, lava lamp shade of violet. The half-psychedelic, half-folkloric 70s mood was echoed at another Milan house, Alberta Ferretti, with purple suede, fringed shift dresses.
Very on trend, but not easy to wear. It seems purple and fashion don’t really mix, even when – as this season – they do mix. On the catwalk, purple gets styled in a way that emphasises its gaucheness. Perhaps designers, with their oversensitivity to visual codes, get overwhelmed by the history of purple, its connotations of royalty, aristocracy, mystery.
Whatever the reason, the best stylist of purple is not fashion but nature. To figure out how to wear purple, style it like a florist or a gardener, not a fashionista. Those deep purple tulips look slightly spooky on their own, I always think; but picture a bunch of mixed pink, purple and mauve sweetpeas for a joyous purple moodboard. Or a bruised purple sky above a granite grey sea, for a moodier one. Tone on tone colours soften purple: a Ribena shade that looks aggressive with black, jockey-striped and ridiculous with green, and grandiose with white, looks relaxed and pretty next to pink.
And there’s a bonus: I find people are disproportionately impressed when you mix colours. Most of us are conditioned to use one colour in any given outfit, and mix it with a neutral. Put two colours together and you will find people lavish you with compliments about how clever you are. Don’t tell them you nicked the idea from a flower shop; just smile and look regal.
Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair and makeup: Sharon Ive at Carol Hayes Management.
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