Wassily Kandinsky (who I have quoted in the title) was one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Born and raised in the former Soviet Union and later emigrating Germany, he became one of the forefathers of abstract art. To me, the way he used colour was particularly ground breaking and eye pleasing. I just returned from New York where, in need of inspiration, I spent an afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art. This is where I ran into the works of Kandinsky once again and marvelled at his use of colour to give his paintings life and form.
As I thought about colour and the role it plays in merchandising and retail in general, I believe it is as central as it is to Kandinsky’s paintings. I remember being at Gap when Mickey Drexler’s theory early on was to ensure there was an array of colours, even in the basic offerings. Not only will this grab people’s attention and make the store more pleasing to the eye, but it will help sell more blacks, whites and navy blues.
Retailers such as Uniqlo, Hollister, Forever 21 have all embraced this theory and have certainly created some excitement in their assortments and their visuals with the colours they are offering. I remember in the old days of Beaver Canoe, our colour influences came from Ralph Lauren, Merona and Alexander Julian (who was a brilliant colourist). If I were to design a line today, I would be influenced by the likes of Etro, Vilebrequin and Paul Smith who have all taken “colour” to new heights of emphasis and beauty.
In New York, DKNY has done a magnificent job with colour in their flagship store on Madison Avenue. The visual team has created colour “stories” for sections on their main floor and it is a stunning feat of visual brilliance. Each colour (be it bright pink or teal. sapphire or even black) is highlighted in its own section with a broad assortment of styles from which to choose. It certainly makes the collection stand out and be noticed.
Colour is so important to everyone around the world. Look no further than the World Cup of Football (soccer) that just took place in South Africa. The multitude of colourful uniforms, obviously taking cues from each of the country’s flag colours, made the pitch exciting and beautiful to watch (even if the quality of some of the matches were sometimes a bit sub-par). I was having lunch with some prospective Dutch business partners recently and I hesitated to bring up the World Cup Final since Holland lost 1-0 to Spain in that match. While they didn’t want to talk about the match as it was still too painful to comprehend, I remarked how amazing it was to see the hundreds of thousands Dutch supporters all dressed in Orange watching on a big screen at the Museumplein back in Amsterdam. Their immediate reaction was “We dressed in Orange and it is such a happy colour”. The Dutch team indeed are known as the “Oranje” and played the final in that bright colour from head to toe and it looked very cheerful and upbeat, until the final whistle.
Colour is such an integral part of our everyday psyche. On a grey day, we feel a bit dull, but on a sunny day we seem to have more energy and seem just a bit happier and more carefree. Such is the power of colour. I believe, especially in these more uncertain and challenging economic times, that people need more of it not less, and that merchants should always strive to ensure that their stores look appealing through the effective use of colour in their assortments and visuals.
I will leave the last words to Kandinsky, a true master of colour himself…”Colour is a means of exerting direct influence upon the soul”. Amen to that.