When Raf Simons sent models down the runway in colour-blocked pastels during his valedictory show at Jil Sander for Autumn 2012 ready to wear, he demonstrated that the fashion world was still inspired by the challenge of getting to grips with colour blocking. The art of colour blocking — wearing an outfit with two or three solid colours — has its roots in, well, the art world. Piet Mondrian’s vivid and exploratory work pairing primary colours initiated the trend for fashion designers to block opposing hues to create an arresting look. While the fashion world tended to confine colour blocking to saturated primary colours, Simons’ use of blocked pastels demonstrated there was still an unexplored and untapped plasticity in the colour blocking trend.
Getting to grips with colour blocking
From Yves Saint Laurent’s daring 1965 collection, which directly quoted Mondrian paintings, to recent experimentations (Pierre Hardy’s graphic colour-blocked shoes, for example), it’s clear colour blocking has never really gone away, it’s just reinvented. How will you play with your colour blocks?
Colour blocking on the catwalk
Pop art revolutionised the art world’s colour palette in the 1950s and 60s, and the fashion world responded. As American designers indulged in deep swathes of vivid colour-blocked designs (re-watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s and pay attention to the coats), Yves Saint Laurent decided to go back to the source of contemporary colour blocking with a collection lifted from the designs of Piet Mondrian. This stark collection of 1960s edits on the classic flapper dress showed just what could be done with contrasting geometric blocks of colour. Saint Laurent still produces collections in resplendent colour, but usually in separates — leaving stylists to get out their colour wheels to complete the colour blocking themselves!
The catwalk is still home to some incredible displays of colour blocking. Jil Sander continues to produce virtuoso collections influenced by the colour blocking trend initiated at the house by designer Raf Simons. One of Simons’ classic colour-blocked looks was to sidestep from classic primary colours to juxtapose secondary tones, such as striking orange trousers with a luminescent aqua blazer in his SS11 collection. Many of these looks have remained Jil Sander staples after Sander herself returned to the label in 2012.
One for the boys
Colour blocking for men has received too little attention. However, thanks to Italian labels Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana injecting a welcome does of vivid colour into the menswear zeitgeist, other houses have started to take note. Many up-and-coming designers at London Collections: Men SS14 were noted for featuring colour blocking prominently on the runway. If this trend continues, it seems men should have plenty of solutions for getting to grips with colour blocking.
One easy colour blocking outfit idea for men is to rearrange the staple items of menswear — suit trousers, blazer and dress shirt — into an exciting play on colour. Italian menswear house Canali has velvety purple and pink blazers that provide the perfect leaping off point. Accent the warm hues of the blazer with Haider Ackermann trousers in indigo. The warm and cool hues provide the necessary components for colour blocking, while the muted tones in both the blazer and the trousers are complementary.
A September issue
Grace Coddington’s colour-blocking shoot for US Vogue’s monumental 2007 September issue, memorably chronicled in R. J. Cutler’s documentary The September Issue, yields some great ideas for thinking about colour blocking for women.
Counterpoint a bright coat — perhaps a blue one from Dsquared2 — against an equally bright skirt. When getting to grips with colour blocking, keep your colour wheel in mind. In the Coddington shoot, the blue coat was paired with a bright indigo skirt in the style of Stella McCartney. The key is to oppose hues while matching tones — so you juxtapose blue and indigo, but not lights and darks. It’s also possible to incorporate neutral tones as they don’t offset the effect of the opposition. As Coddington demonstrated, a grey knitted top can even accentuate the blocking effect of the other pieces.
Trickle down effect
Not usually the first thing one thinks about when it comes to fashionable colour blocking, shoes have been slow to receive the polytonal attention lavished upon other items of clothing. Thankfully, the balance has started to shift, with labels like Marni producing ranges of colour-blocked footwear. Once again, inspiration seems to have come from the art world, with Marni’s red, blue and black palette echoing Miró’s artwork.
Accent geometric colour-blocked shoes by wearing a simple, streamlined dress in white or a neutral tone. Alexander Wang shirt dresses have an unencumbered form that accentuates the strong lines of the colour-blocked footwear, brought into even sharper focus by the juxtaposition with the white dress. Guys can let the shoes do the talking by wearing colour-blocked footwear, such as Givenchy sneakers, with trousers and tops in neutral hues.