Written by André Larnyoh

 

There are a lot of associations for people who wear black. I could do a whole essay on it, but personally, I associate it with people in the performing arts. For many actors and dancers who find themselves training in an attempt to hopefully someday tread a board, black clothing is de rigueur. It’s seen as the great equaliser - that absence of colour allows others to see past clothing and focus on the individual and skill.

I also associate it with modern day London youth culture. Growing up, all black athleisure was the uniform of youths in my neighbourhood. Probably because it was so nondescript. For both groups, it has a tendency to produce a “we are legion” effect, - the idea of ensemble for the former and a strength in numbers effect in the latter.

Black is the new black. For those whose closest encounter to that side of the colour wheel has been charcoal grey, it can feel like a whole new world which needs adept navigation. Truth is, for a lot of people it never left. It has been the uniform of the high fashion set for what feels like time immemorial and New Yorkers can’t seem to get enough of it in their day to day.

Black garments are, in equal parts, sombre, smart, mysterious and chic. My appreciation and love for it stems from how simplistic and elegant it can be. That elegance is often overlooked and saved for the most formal of occasions such as a black tie dinner or a funeral. It is not purely a colour for the evening, it has its place in the light of day;  where its simplicity is its strength. Going fully monochrome is something I never have to think twice about, it gives room to experiment and play with the smaller details that can really make an ensemble something. Volume, contrasting shades (the way a black twill or cotton can seem to fade and go slightly grey), how different materials look when hit by the sun. Its ability to go between harmonising or contrasting with other colours in the spectrum is of interest to me. Black and grey are natural bedfellows: the look of a rugged black shirt tucked into odd grey trousers will never fail, but I’m equally as interested in the accenting effect that can come from having a black hat atop an all white ensemble that is finished with a well worn pair of black boots or loafers. Or the starkness of a red shirt worn with black leather and jacket and jeans.

When you wear black, in a strange way, there is nowhere to hide. You, as an individual, are front and centre. Your features, perfectly framed by a colour that is darker than any skin tone. There’s a portrait by the photographer Irving Penn that speaks to this. It is of the painter Jacob Lawrence and his wife Gwen. They stare into the camera with a stately gaze with Jacob’s hand resting on Gwen’s. They bring to the camera a unified front through not just their gaze but also with their choice of clothing: matching black rollnecks and trousers. The neutrality of their clothes allows who they are and their partnership to speak without any distraction.

 Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Lawrence (Gwen), New York,1947

That honesty and individualism it can give should be embraced and celebrated. After all, at the end of the day it's not the clothes that matter. It’s the person wearing them that does. Why hide behind pastels and bright primaries?

 

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