According to The Secret Lives of Colour author Kassia St. Clair, the story of purple is bookended by the discovery of two great dyes. The first is Tyrian, the organic dye that was, for centuries, made from mollusks. The time and expense involved in creating Tyrian restricted the ownership of purple attire to the wealthy and privileged, and is one of the reasons it is the symbolic colour of nobility, opulence and religious dignitaries across many cultures. In Japan, for example, deep-purple murasaki was a restricted colour, forbidden to all but the ruling class.
The second is the accidental development of mauveine, the first synthetic chemical dye, in 1856. While attempting to formulate an affordable anti-malarial drug, the young British chemist William Perkin accidentally created the process for purple pigment. That same year, Empress Eugénie of France, then Europe’s leading fashionista, started a style craze for purple when she decided lilac would be the colour of the season. Britain’s Queen Victoria followed suit and wore the shade to her daughter’s wedding. Thanks to Perkin’s discovery, the commercial mass production of purple textiles was possible for the first time and the colour trend swiftly expanded from courtly circles to common civilians.
Erdem dress and veil, both price on request through erdem.com.
The hue’s contemporary connotation also draws on royalty of the pop-culture variety, such as Diana Ross’s disco-era supermodel persona (famously draped in purple and feathers for the 1975 film Mahogany) and to his supreme purpleness, Prince. Designer Erdem Moralioglu’s extravagant, purple-tinged, fall 2019 collection combines references to the colour’s posher proponents (the Canadian-born Brit cited Italian Princess Orietta Doria Pamphilj as inspiration) with the glamorous floral brocades and feathers favoured by its celebrity fans.
This season, the runways were awash in shades of violet, lavender, grape and aubergine at labels including Missoni, Kate Spade, Zimmermann and Richard Quinn. Fashion’s new affinity for the hue also reflects another aspect of purple’s rich cultural history. The etymology for the Latin purpura includes the definition “purity of light,” making purple the emblematic colour of the imagination and of dreams. In the crystal zodiac, amethyst is calming and meditative, and in colour therapy, indigo and violet refer to energy centres for serenity, sensuality and intuition. Given the recent revival of interest in astrology, tarot readings and mysticism, purple reflects a similar search for meaning. Who says the quest for enlightenment can’t begin in your wardrobe?
“Colour creates an emotional reaction,” says designer Tanya Taylor, who also teaches colour-therapy painting classes. For fall, her collection’s purples range from bold magenta and aubergine zebra patterns to delicate prints on moody indigo. “There’s an element to that colour that has a lot of authority,” she says. “Someone who wears purple is confident, assertive, sassy.” – Nathalie Atkinson
Sid Neigum blouse, $825 through sidneigum.com. Andrew Coimbra skirt, $475 through andrewcoimbra.com. Vintage necklace and ring, both price on request through caroletanenbaum.com. Erin Tracy earrings, $145 through erintracy.ca.
Tanya Taylor dress, US$545 through tanyataylor.com. Turtleneck, $115 at Cos. Tierre Taylor hat, $165 through tierretaylor.com. Vintage earrings, price on request through caroletanenbaum.com. Erin Tracy ring, $1,450 through erintracy.ca
Photography by Ted Belton; Styling by Odessa Paloma Parker
Makeup by Ronnie Tremblay for Marc Jacobs Beauty/P1M.ca. Hair by Helen Kenny for Oribe. Nails by Nargis Khan for Tips Nail Bar/P1M.ca. Model: Victoria Thomsen at Sutherland Models. Photographed at St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto (stlawrencemarket.com).