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The Colours of Céline

By Guan Tan

Tung Pham/Felicia Yap/Carolyn Cheng

Everyone has a favourite colour. You and I. Likewise fashion houses and their creative directors. Survey Céline's colour programme over the past six years, since creative director Phoebe Philo came onboard in Resort 2010, and you'll find a consistent palette of primary colours dominating the runways.

Philo's colours when studied under the Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow (CMY) scheme, are varying degrees of blue, red, and yellow. Take things a notch further to the CMYK model, black (represented by K), white (the absence of all colours), greens and browns come into view. 

While Céline doesn't come across as a particularly colourful and cheery fashion house, their use of colours is surprisingly comprehensive. How did they pull that off? It all boils down to the intensity of each shade. 

In colorimetry, there's a formative theory called the Munsell colour system. Conceptualised by Albert H. Munsell, the greyscale chart ranks colours by intensity. When converted into greyscale and measured against Munsell's chart, Céline's choice of colours, be it brown, blue or red, ranks on the darker end of the spectrum. 

Tung Pham/Felicia Yap/Carolyn Cheng

Take red for instance. You'll find either a brighter chilli red or burgundy on Céline's runways. Don't be fooled by the vibrancy of a chilli red in a Céline shirt or Clasp handbag, for it is a highly saturated, intense shade of red. According to Pantone, a consistent intensity and value throughout colours, like that of Céline's, "creates an understated, subtle and restrained look that is seen as calm and quiet."

Which means when two dark colours are placed side by side, they naturally share similar high-intensity values. When that happens, it creates a softer and undisturbed look. This is exactly what makes Céline's colours look so composed. When a fashion house wants to create drama, they'll have a low-valued hue positioned beside a high-valued shade, leading to a steep change in colour values and consequently excitement in the viewers' eyes – which is what Céline avoids generally except for one Spring 2014 brushstrokes collection if you could recall.

Much has been said and written about the communication of colours, particularly the subconscious emotions that they conjure in viewers. 

While bright reds are used sparingly throughout the runway collections, a more popular burgundy is found in the likes of shirts, dresses and blacks. Burgundy, like other dark and sombre shades, communicates power. It's frequently used in Céline's runways, for instance, the upcoming Fall 2017 has a full look in burgundy. Otherwise, it comes in a skirt in Spring 2017, or a handbag. And burgundy is a good case study for Céline's clever play on subtraction theory. 

Tung Pham/Felicia Yap/Carolyn Cheng

Burgundy on its own appears dark and serene.  This is what Albers term the 'factual colour', a certain and unadulterated wavelength. When set against an even darker background such as black, burgundy's wavelengths are altered and appears brighter – a coupling Céline avoids. To make the burgundy appear even darker, Céline pairs it with lime green and bright red (seen in Spring 2017). It's an optical illusion Albers calls this relativity "actual colour".

Tung Pham/Felicia Yap/Carolyn Cheng

The same high-intensity darker shades goes for browns , a colour Céline taps on frequently, oranges, greens, and blues. It's unlikely the colours of Céline will change under Philo's baton. She will go on to communicate silently with her colours, narrating about a powerful woman who is composed, unfazed, and undisturbed by the torrents of life.