Camilla is right! Mauve is dull and menopausal… but purple reigns, writes BEL MOONEY
How good it was to read that the smart, independent-minded Duchess of Cornwall refused to wear the purple dress suggested by fashionistas for a Vogue photo shoot and instead delivered her own elegant blue.
The Duchess of Cornwall is pictured in glorious purple at Westminster Abbey in 2017
Good for her! She looked gorgeous!
I share Camilla’s take on mauve – that sickly pink-lilac, with more pink in it than blue. Like them, I associate mauve with old ladies’ cardigans in the fifties.
It’s a pale, post-menopausal shade that takes the color off older skin and gives a sign that you’ve given up thinking you can make a statement with your clothes.
A friend said he thought I liked mauve. Oh no, no, no! He mixes that anodyne, apologetic, blushing nothing-of-a-shade with my love of bold purple and vibrant violet.
Violet is the last color in the spectrum, after indigo, and to me speaks of wealth and strength – just as it did in ancient times, when it was loved by the Romans as a sign of wealth and prestige.
I started wearing purple in 1966, mainly wool hats and scarves, and progressed to the floral purple and black mini coat and dress (purchased on Oxford Street) that I wore to my first wedding in 1968.
Unfortunately there are no color photos, but the rich needlepoint cord was decorated with dark purple shoes, gloves and handbag, and a shocking pink hat decorated with the bunch of violets my new husband bought me that rainy February morning. I was just 21.
Camilla, pictured with Charles on a 2015 Kiwi trip, has always had an eye for fashion
When I got married again in 2007, almost 61 years old, I didn’t have to think twice about what to wear.
This time (more solvent now) I chose a beautiful cocktail dress made by the London and Cheltenham firm Beatrice von Tresckow, with a beautiful violet silk embroidered bodice and violet chiffon over a turquoise silk skirt.
I love it so much that two years later I wore the same dress for my daughter’s wedding, and again for a friend’s beautiful birthday. It’s a little snug now, but I’m determined to wear it again one day.
What about shades of purple? To forgo “mauve” right away, that color was accidentally discovered in 1856 by William Henry Perkin, an 18-year-old chemistry expert who was looking for a synthetic alternative to quinine, the antimalarial drug. He added hydrogen and oxygen to coal tar, noticed a strange dark residue when washing his flasks — and discovered mauve.
But according to Victoria Finlay’s great book, Colour: Travels Through The Paintbox, he didn’t call this new shade mauve, but “Tyrian purple.”
When I got married for the second time in 2007, it didn’t take long for me to choose the right color
She writes: ‘By 1858 every lady in London, Paris and New York who could afford it was wearing ‘mauve’, and Perkin, who had set up a paint factory with his father and brother, was more likely to become a wealthy man. he reached his 21st birthday’.
Of course, the shade that Camilla and I both dislike is just one shade of a color range that could be described as amethyst, clover, lupine, magenta, orchid, plum (and many more), depending on the mix of blue and red, as well as white for the pale shades.
Many people will argue that mauve is beautiful and flattering. But when Shakespeare described Queen Cleopatra’s magnificent barge – ‘The poop was beaten gold, the sails purple’ – he imagined a deep opulence fit to dazzle generals and emperors, not a pale imitation.
The search for that purple takes us back to ancient history and the natural, acclaimed, rich color made from the shellfish Murex brandaris, found in the Eastern Mediterranean. But the secret of “Tyrian purple” was gone until archaeologists began a quest to rediscover it in the 1860s.
In a difficult and expensive process, hundreds of thousands of the tiny sea snails had to be found, their shells burst and the snail removed.
The snails were soaked in a mixture of wood ash, water and urine, then a small gland was removed and the juice extracted and placed in the sunlight – to change color by white, then green, then violet, then a red that changed darker and darker.
It took more than 250,000 shellfish to extract just half an ounce of dye—enough for a single toga.
The process had to be stopped at just the right moment to get the color purple – rich and bright, and suitable only for the wealthy.
Is my love of purple a sign of vanity? Probably! In ancient Rome, solid purple robes were a sign of victory and status.
At my mother’s recent funeral, I wore a favorite purple dress (featured every week in my byline in my Saturday advice column in the Mail) under a plum-cotton velvet coat studded with dark pink and purple flowers. Mom would have approved. She wasn’t very fond of black.
The Duchess of Cornwall looked spectacular in a Vogue photoshoot to mark her 75th birthday
I am obsessed with amethyst jewelry and now my newly planted summer pots are full of the purple salvia that bees love so much, different shades of lilac and purple Nemesia and purple petunias.
My favorite roses, called Rhapsody in Blue, are a glorious reddish purple, and just now (after rain) their spilled petals are as extravagant as a flowery purple passage in prose.
Twelve years ago I painted our bathroom a deep purple, the color of peace and spirituality, just as a lighter lilac is seen as the color of healing (both excellent colors for an advice columnist).
So, Camilla, I’m with you on that pink-mauve – but please join me in wearing vibrant purple! It is the most beautiful color with blond hair.
And don’t forget that the color of the brand new Elizabeth Line in London is a beautiful purple.
As Cleopatra knew, this is a color befitting a queen.