A blue suit, for example, what is a blue suit after all?
And yet! …
Filippo de Pisis – Adamo o dell’Eleganza
uman's sweeping renewal of the aesthetic and cultural values had to take into account another crucial element of men's style: colour.
But what colour could represent both the intellectual and functional complexity of uman's concept: the answer is blue!
Not only is blue the most modern and intellectual of colours, it is also the most occidental and the most eccentric (1); and today blue also seems to have acquired an ethical note that is tied to environmental protection and to water preservation (2). We see proof of this in history, in the arts, and in literature.
The role of Blue in History
For at least a century, both men and women have favoured the colour blue in clothing: statistics show that particularly men prefer the colour blue up to 50% more than other colours (green ranks second).
Interestingly enough, children tend to prefer red, which only ranks fourth among the adults' favourite colours. So, we can also note that an individual's evolution is analogous to the evolution of mankind. In classical times, in fact, red was mankind's favourite colour, particularly in its most intense shade, crimson, the colour used by nobles and soldiers, while blue was associated with the barbarians who painted their faces blue to frighten their enemies. It was only in the 12th century that blue started to play a major role in society; at first it was associated with the cult of the Virgin Mary and then it came to symbolise rectitude during the Protestant Reformation. But it was also the favourite colour of the wealthy classes because of the high cost of indigo – the raw material required for dyeing material blue.
With the discovery of "Prussian blue" in 1704, which was obtained by means of a simple chemical process, the use of the colour blue actually became widespread (3).
The role of Blue in the Figurative Arts Except for a few rare cases, like Gainsborough's famous Blue Boy (painted around 1770), it was only in the second half of the 19th century that blue gained importance in painting, particularly due to such artists as Van Gogh, with his self-portraits, and Cézanne, whose landscapes are often pervaded with a blue hue.
Kandinsky and Marc both considered blue to be the most spiritual colour. Blue became the "manifesto" of Der Blaue Reiter ("The Blue Rider"), a group founded by the two artists in 1911 that was named after Kandinsky's painting of that name. Then in 1924,following this same impetus, Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, and Jawlensky founded the group Blaue Vier: the "Blue Four".
the climax of the rise of the importance of blue as the most unique, the ultimate artistic colour was the solemn "Announcement of the blue age" by Yves Klein in 1957. The artist also patented his special International Blue Klein (IBK), a deep synthetic marine blue that has an almost hypnotic effect.
From then on blue was used more and more effectively by many artists, particularly in monochrome art, for its symbolic power, and its ability to represent abstract forms naturally in any material, context, form, or size. Thus pure blue is found in the carefully detailed Indian ink insects of Jean Fabre and in the plastic waste mosaics of Tony Cragg; in the "biros" of Alighiero Boetti and in the ethereal spaces of James Turrell; in the spheres of Jeff Koons and in the cubes of Donald Judd; in the painted rocks of Tafraoute by Jean Varame and in the giant metal horse of Luis Jimenez at the Denver Airport.
The role of Blue in Literature
The growing importance of blue has also been evident in literature that stressed the colour's aesthetic, mental, and even its exoteric properties.
The natural starting point is Goethe's renowned 1808 "Theory of Colours" ("Farbenlehre"), although now surpassed as a scientific work, it is still interesting from a literary point of view because it celebrates blue as a colour that… disposes to a state of unrest, tenderness, and nostalgia, indeed the most fruitful moods of an artist or a poet.
This colour exercises a singular and almost indescribable action on the eye … its appearance is a contradiction between excitement and peace. Like we see blue in the high sky and the far away mountains, similarly a blue surface seems to withdraw before us. Like we follow a pleasant object that escapes from us, similarly we enjoy looking at blue, not because it assails us, but because it attracts towards itself.
This feeling of "depth", both perceptually and emotionally, this strange inner dynamic, both physical and metaphysical, that the colour blue seems to exude has made it first a symbol of the romantic and later of the decadent spirit (4). Among poets, Mallarmé alludes to the filigrane bleu de l'âme ("soul's blue fligree") (5), and Trackl states that a blue moment is pure spirit (6). The beautiful "blue flower" that enchanted and inspired Novalis (7) is the emblematic course of the romantic spirit, meant as going back to the source of life and finally finding, after unbroken wandering, the form that releases from time, the image that summarizes mystery, the vision that points out to the truth (8). Similar feelings, though imbued with a tinge of elitism, can be found in Huysmans' masterpiece, "Against the Grain", which glorifies the colour blue: If you disregard the majority of ordinary mortals whose coarse retinas can discern neither the peculiar cadence of each colour nor the mysterious charms of their gradations and their subtleties… if you then consider none but those whose discriminating vision has been refined through contact with literature and art, he was convinced that the eye of that individual who dreams of ideal beauty, who craves illusions, who seeks some mystery in women, is as a rule attracted to blue and its derivatives– mauve, lilac and pearl grey –always provided these remain soft in tone, and do not cross that boundary where they lose their identity and are transformed into pure violets and forthright greys.
Goethe came to this same conclusion when he observed that as blue becomes more intense, it slowly changes into red, and becomes more effective in this process…it does not keep moving forward, though, but finds a place where to be appeased. This very rarefied colour is known as lilac.
The Role of Blue in Men's Wear
Blue is a very visual colour, representing the nec plus ultra of colour expressiveness of the lounge suit and of men's wear in general – when it is freed from its
current and limited association with so-called power dressing (i.e., the attire of managers and politicians): a combination that tends to belittle its natural complexity and gravitas.
A century earlier, this latter limited function was peculiar to black, at the time "the colour" of the Victorian establishment – i.e. "the colour of social immobility " (9) – expressing, in particular, belonging to a class and a specific loyalty to tradition.
In a gentleman's wardrobe today, black is almost only associated with formal evening or mourning wear, as the increased success of blue caused the decline of black as a customary daywear colour.
By 1919, the colour blue was widely adopted in America for sports jackets, made of Shetland, tweed, or flannel: Blues that are as light as robin's egg blue, Prussian blues, deep medium blues, and blues with a suggestion of purple, worn by well dressed men of wealth (10). Blue started to dominate men's apparel in the 1940s, with the variations of air-blue (inspired by the jackets of the US Air Force) and star-gray; the latter was described as.. a mixture of blue and gray that looked like gray when compared with navy blue, but had a distinct bluish cast against a pure gray.
While the Duke of Windsor had introduced midnight blue as a colour for the dinner jacket, with the burst of the "Peacock Revolution", blue also appeared in the world of the most formal of all sports, golf, where "fairway blue" was celebrated in 1968, and tennis, where in 1969 the American Davis Cup tennis team flaunted "…a blue training suit with white and yellow trim instead of classical white".
However, blue only appears easy to use: it can quickly fall back to being just common when it is used "uniformly" or else it can lapse into vulgarity when one wants to "brighten it up" by matching it with other intense colours.
To make the most of blue, one needs to learn how to use the endless range of nuances and mélanges that originate from a mix with other colours, while remaining within one and the same colour palette.
The use of blue also allows uman to enhance important elements of its tailored products, including the fabrics' quality and textures, the details, and the silhouette.
All these reasons make it perfectly suited to represent the concept, the style and the various expressions within the uman wardrobe.
we would like to thank the following for the use of their photographs in this website:
Private Collection/© Succession Picasso/DACS London 2010;
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris/© Succession H Matisse/DACS 2010;
Private Collection/© ADAGP Paris and DACS London 2010;
58 Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany/© ADAGP Paris and DACS London 2010;
1) Blue is known to produce unique psycho-physical effects on man that are distinctly different from those produced by the other primary colours (see The Eccentric Blue, 2009, by Lucia Ronchi and Jodi Sandford). In fact, recent research shows green to be rather "unsustainable", being the most artificial and least degradable of all colours.
2) A message that is also implied in the Blue Globe by Yves Klein, then also expressed in Peter Greenaway's Blue Planet, and even marketed by Samsung's ecological mobile device Blue Earth.
3) See Michel Pastoureau, Bleu. Histoire d'une couleur (2002), for a comprehensive description of the fortunes and uses of this colour.
4) Certain properties of blue on the human psyche were recently confirmed by a study of the University of British Columbia (2009), which demonstrated that blue stimulates creativity and imagination twice more intensely than red.
5) Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1899), Tired of bitter idleness…
6) Georg Trackl (1887–1914), Childhood.
7) From the unfinished novel: Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1801); the dream that opens the story is pervaded with the magic colour:… Rocks of a dull blue colour rose at some distance…the sky was a deep blue, and utterly clear… but what strongly attracted him was a tall bright blue flower… and he observed it for some time, in a state of indescribable tenderness. The "blue flower" is later mentioned in the homonymic poem by Eichendorff.
8) From: Il Fiore Azzurro: infinito e anima romantica (2000), by Salvatore Lo Bue.
9) From Men in Black, by Peter Harvey (1995).
10) This is a description of Palm Beach in 1928 from "Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions" (1973), as are the quotes that follow.