Detailed view of Kazimir Malevic’s “Black Square”

Blackest Ever Black

Musings about the most beautiful anticolor.

As a veteran member of the service industry, I have a few opinions on the conceptual uniform. I appreciate the notion of sameness to obliterate notions of difference and individuality for the greater benefit of the group. Distinction creates distraction. There is something bizarrely calming about losing that personalization and character, becoming a shade of former self for a couple hours. A vessel, a conduit. Then the shift is over and I return to normal. it’s nice to switch one’s brain off.

The maestro only speaks in truths.

I also have an affinity for the basic server’s uniform as it almost always calls for black on black. Obviously this is no problem as I could close my eyes and randomly point in my closet and be appropriately dressed for a couple months at least. Well, almost appropriately. Black is very comforting for me, like a security blanket. I notice even just walking down the street I exude more swagger when wearing all or nearly all black. Passerbys sidestep to avoid or do the quick up and down, sizing me up trying to figure out what is up with this kid. It makes a quiet statement shrouded in mystery and threatens with a sense of danger.

Let me say first and foremost, I completely understand that technically black is not a color. Color is defined by a corresponding wavelength on the visible light spectrum. The physics of light and thereby color dictate that an object absorbs a portion of light and the wavelength reflected off is the color we view. Conversely, black and white have no particular wavelength since white is the summation of all colors from the visible spectrum and black is the distinct absence thereof. This is why wearing black in summer can be a miserable experience since all the sun’s terrible heat and light are absorbed by the fabric. No one ever said it’s easy being goth in summer. I can personally attest to that fact of life.

Physical properties aside, black has held a salient position in the realms of visual arts and socio-religious culture. During Grecian classical era, black became inseparable from their tradition of pottery making. Artists used a red clay that when heated, achieved a high gloss black finish with striking red figures given a heightened brilliance. The rise of the Roman Empire saw black relegated to the color or commoners. More intense and rich dyes were reserved for those of imperial or high social class presumably for both their socio-economic associations as well as the simple cost of both procuring pigments and executing. Pigments used for black weren’t as luxurious and faded into drab tones unfit for the elite. Subsequently, merchants, artisans and laymen adopted the color predominantly.

With the dissolution of the Roman Empire by encroaching European barbarians and the astronomic rise of Christianity during the Middle Ages, black once again became reoriented on a more symbolic and religious nexus. Benedictine monks wore cascading robes of black to show their ascetic devotion to piety. Probably more well known is that black became the antithesis of all the world’s light, equated with the devil and all evil standing opposed to the lightness of God and his children. Scores of medieval painters depicted the devil as a black being predicating on the naivete and lives of believers. One can also probably recall a dozen paintings of magistrates, knights or other general members of the nobility, depicted either as a venal misers or a candlelight soaked and quietly pensive holy men at the vesper hour, and both types wearing black to suggest their power and maybe also the private moments in seclusion from the eyes of God and neighbors. Black had a heightened power, especially in secrecy.

In the realm of fashion black reigns supreme. It disavows other colors as distraction, something that fogs clarity and inhibits judgment. Color takes the focus away from the actual garment, suggesting that palette is equal to idea and execution of a design. I understand it part and parcel of the conceptualization of a garment. I just don’t think there needs to be anything more than black, except maybe white available as a sharp contrast. Black epitomizes everything and nothing simultaneously, a constant ontological struggle perpetuated by itself. The nuanced delicacy with which black interacts with light to create even more black is poetic. Layers of black dominate, casting momentary shadows from the fabric’s movement produce more dynamic shapes and dimensions of black. Black concealing itself, turning into itself only to retreat and return to form. A divorced interaction and silent struggle with itself never resolved. Shape and line remain solely extant and integral with black — a perpetual disintegration and reconstitution of form and by extension self. It emanates power, to fold in and destroy itself only to emerge unscathed and form unchanged — life and death existing in balance. Endless, endless black, devouring and reconstituting itself once more. I apologize for philosophy. I’m not great at it.

Now, everyone knows that black is Yohji Yamamoto-sama’s muse and Rei Kawakubo-sama only thinks in three shades of it, but I truly think that their choice is a deliberate oneof both thoughtful irreverence and devout solidarity within it. This isn’t to suggest that they are chromophobic (don’t worry, I looked it up too). Quite the opposite, actually. In fact, Comme des Garcons always displays a playful and clever juxtaposition of color, pattern and textile simultaneously in the past with great success when they venture outside of their usual monochratic color palette they have fashioned their empire in. The maestro himself has even dabbled in pastels, and even finds a not-quite-home away from home in shades of navy. When the pair debuted on the Paris runway in 1981, they created a massive stir for their jarringly different approach to fashion design, galvanizing the French press with what seemed like the end of high fashion. Arriving in an era of rive gauche Western Eurocentric trends, the pair showed ruminations of the current limits of fashion in their eyes and a new possibility. Yamamoto sent women down a catwalk in oversized men’s suiting predominantly in black and Kawakubo showed tortured pieces of fabric, distressed to the point of appearing hard on one’s luck. The pair were suggesting a new way of viewing what clothing could look like for women, all black everything, but more significantly, what a woman could be and what she thought of herself.

Tell me what you think about the so-called fashionable color of black!


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