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.
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