Why designers wear black

Like many designers before me, I have succumbed to the dark side

I have a confession to make. Since two years ago, most of the clothes I purchased are worryingly of one colour — black. I’ve tried to make a few exceptions here and there to buy white, red and navy blue pieces. But that is far as I would get with colours nowadays.

In the beginning, I thought I had a problem because I was hiding my purchases like a crack addict. My sister has an annoying habit of looking at my shopping bag and asking, “You didn’t buy another black top/dress/pants, do you?” To which I would reply, yes but it goes with my other clothing items, etc.

My wardrobe is slowly morphing into a funereal fashion show. I’ve ran out of excuses of why I resemble the witches in American Horror Stories: Coven. I’m afraid I don’t want to come out from the black hole. Like many designers before me, I have succumbed to the dark side.

To understand my condition, I asked a few designer friends about this. Fortunately I’m not alone. I rarely see architects in anything other than black (even socially), and the fashion tribes always choose noir for work.

Myriam Lengliné, the designer behind La dame au beret millinery label, always wear vintage black. She is originally from Paris, so doing the black chic is a natural thing for her. She said: “I wear black as a homage to French chanteuses Edith Piaf, Barbara, Juliette Gréco, and my Goth heritage.”

Caroline Senley, a Kensington-based interior designer told me: “There’s a famous quote an architect once said which is ‘wear black and live white’ — referring to the minimal references that each colour occupies when worn, or within designed space.” According to her the black wearer exudes these qualities — sleek, clean, futuristic, timeless, edgy, cool, neat, simple and chic.

Those are the conceptual reasons behind it. To some designers, it’s a matter of utility. I’m a fan of Yohji Yamamoto’s school of thought: “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy — but mysterious. But above all black says this: I don’t bother you — don’t bother me.”

Black is everything and black is also nothing. There’s no room for doubts in the colour black. I see switching to black as going back to zero to redefine myself. It’s the most liberating thing I could do without having to shave my head bald.

Just look at how Daphne Guinness resurrected herself. She wasn’t a memorable fashion entity until she switched to Morticia Addams mode.

Wearing black also gives an aura of intelligence. It makes you appear ahead of time. In the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn’s character got away with being a call girl because she wore the elegant black Givenchy in the opening scene.

Apple’s Steve Jobs had championed black as the Zen-tech uniform. He single-handedly elevated the black Issey Miyake turtleneck into a cult item.

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) by John Singer Sargent, 1884. She became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumoured infidelities (Source: Wikipedia). Photo © Metropolitan Museum of Arts.

But most of all, I love wearing black for the subtle defiant attitude. No one nailed this spirit better than Coco Chanel. I have moved on from the rebellious death-metal t-shirts from my art school days. My taste has become much finer with age, but the love for black remains.

I would say my style barometer now swings between Johnny Cash’s Man In Black and John Singer Sargent’s Madame X.

It’s somewhere between the thoughtful working artist, and a woman capable of a little scandal whenever she feels like it.

Zarina is a monochrome devotee. Unlike her attire, her work at GLUE Studio is pretty colourful. She tweets about design and photography @ZarinaHolmes