In 1982 the Brooklyn Museum mounted an exquisite exhibit from their holdings of the couture apparel of Charles James. A solitary genius who lived and died in the Chelsea Hotel, James employed breathtaking construction to create the most glamorous and startling of silhouettes. What was also self-evident from the exhibit was his astonishingly unusual, slightly off, yet perfectly pitched sense of color. To my mind no clothing designer has ever come close to him, perhaps his palette could only be compared to some Renaissance palettes. The colors are never obvious and never used to simply flatter. Instead he mixed color for a subtle effect to intimate an arcane sophistication and also to suggest something just a tiny bit evil, a whiff of Les Fleurs du Mal. The colors are a teensy bit bitter and the combinations work a sense of tension and dark power. Even when using black and white he just had to add a certain dirty quality; The iconic gown below mixes pure black velvet with a slightly grayed beige silk faille, a particular color that creates a certain imperfect foil to the black.
Creating a room is a lot like creating a painting. Each dab of color creates a need or a hint or suggestion for another. One can play with the eye by pressuring it to accept that an orange is more coral when set next to a blue red. Mixtures of warm and cold, especially in the blues can be startling. Think mixing Yves blue with wedgwood, and then throwing in an icy blue. I don’t think you can go wrong if you study-really study-how great painters slide those colors around. Matisse, Caravaggio, the Fauves, Vermeer-there’s so much to learn from the relationships of color in their palates.