Black in Fashion and the Interior

Black is solemn and sexy, all at the same time, sending opposite messages no other color transmits. Black is the color of mystery and danger, yet, in the design of an interior, it may also be soothing and inviting, even cozy. It is always deeply glamorous.  

Who among us--women, and New Yorkers of all genders, especially--does not know of the glamorizing, slimming power of wearing black? The little black dress--or the large one, for that matter--signals instantly our sophistication.

No other color of apparel has quite this allure, this universal symbolism. If we have come to New York from suburbia, a farm, or even another city, black in Selfies tells our old friends back home that we have arrived. And black, unlike any other color in the spectrum, looks great no matter what your skin and hair color. A blonde in black acquires just a whiff of Marilyn Monroe; a black woman in black might emanate a hint of the diva--of Grace Jones, for example, seen so often in black leather. Black clothing has sheathed just about all our movie and counter-culture idols: Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones; Audrey Hepburn (with pearls and chignon) in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; and rock stars Patti Smith and Lou Reed, to name just a few. 

But until the 15th century, black was predominantly, if not exclusively, the color of mourning. Jessica Regan, of the Met’s Costume Institute, notes that the Duke of Burgundy made black fashionable by wearing it after a period of mourning. Black dye at the time was costly, and so it became a symbol of power, elegance and luxury.  

Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yohji Yamamoto, Pierre Balmain, Cristobal Balenciaga, and of course, Coco Chanel, have all known that black simply makes us look good--thinner, richer and more refined than if we risk a red, or a bright green, for example. From the disciplined chic of Coco Chanel to the reckless beauty of Alexander McQueen, black is consistently the sine qua non of fashion. But black translates well to interiors, too.  

Paint It Black? 

There are the aspects of interior design and furnishing which are often done in black: black marble or slate floors or countertops; the classic black leather sofa; black fur rugs or throws; even black sisal! But an interior designer or DIY customer need not be afraid of using black more generously, which is to say having black walls. Black walls have an impeccable pedigree: think of decorator Mark Hampton's iconic 1971 room: black walls, ivory moldings and persimmon silk sofas. And black is not uniform: there are soft blacks, warm blacks, green-blacks and brown-blacks.  

One of the many beauties of black walls is that it is so easy to juxtapose brighter colors in upholstery, throw pillows, and drapes against them. Just as the human face looks more dramatic in black clothing, so blue, green, gold, or red, to name just a few hues, look more vibrant against black walls, contrasting wonderfully with their depth.  

Whether you saturate a room in black, employing it for wall color and drapes, or use it as a provocative calligraphic accent, black invariably signals a slightly outre stylishness and a hint of seduction, qualities that spike our interiors with a gloss--and guarantee--of sophistication. 

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