It’s bright and optimistic. It’s regal and royal, and wants to be seen. The colour orange is synonymous with the citrus fruit that shares its name and hue. Before orange became orange, it was simply called “yellow-red” or Saffron. It was only in the 16th century when orange was introduced in European language, when Portugese merchants brought the first orange trees to Europe from Asia. It is the colour of fire, autumn, sunsets, and the Netherlands. Love it, or hate it, but our connection to orange can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, to lava and the human discovery of fire.
Impressionism & Arts
Orange became an important colour for the impressionist movement. Having studied colour theory the impressionists knew that orange placed next to azure blue made both colours pop. Auguste Renoir painted boats with stripes of orange straight from the tube. Paul Cézanne created his own oranges with pops of yellow, red and ochre against a blue background. Toulouse-Lautrec often used the colour on the details and gowns of the Parisienne’s in the cafes and clubs he painted. To him orange represented festivity and joy. But no other painter used orange so often and dramatically as Vincent van Gogh. Sharing a house with Gauguin in Arles, to him orange symbolised the colour of the Provence sun. He created his own oranges, mixing yellow with ochre and red, and placed them next to slashes of sienna red and bottle green, or below a sky of blue’s and violets. He once wrote to his brother Theo of his quest to finding “opposites” like blue and orange, of broken and neutral colours to “harmonise the brutality of extremes.”
Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of Ballets Russes, used orange abundantly in costuming and sets during the early 1900s. The most influential (moving) ballet company at the time, its costumes were designed by Léon Bakst and guest designers such as Picasso and Coco Chanel. Like the Ballets Russes shows, orange was a luxury and only reserved for those who had a great deal of money. It wasn’t available to the great masses until the 20th century, when shades of orange could be produced chemically.
Fast rorward to our times, Wes Anderson uses orange profusely in his filmography. From the tree and sunset in Mr. Fantastic Fox, the suitcases in the Darjeeling Limited and the girl on the lighthouse in Moonrise Kingdom. Anderson’s approach to colour is very similar to that of the impressionists. He understands the power of colour and applies his own unique colour theories to his films. Though each has its own distinct palette, orange is the one omnipresent colour in all Anderson’s filmography. You’ll find it hidden in small details (a hat, a sign or a suitcase) or leading the imagery from the wallpaper to lighting and the colour of the earth under the feet of his personas. The director himself has also often been seen on set in an orange corduroy suit, or sporting an orange knitted Tom Ford tie on shoots and interviews.
The Renaissance of Orange
Long considered a difficult, polarising colour, orange has been making a spectacular comeback for nearly a decade now. From the pumpkin oranges on the 2012 runways of Louis Vuitton to the “safety orange” of NYF’s Spring/Summer 2018 runways, orange is here to stay.
Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, places the renaissance of orange with globalization. “There is a certain exoticness [with orange] and many other cultures are now embracing the shades of orange,” she told WWD in an interview. “We are so much more attuned to other cultures that embrace colour.” A development she believes started in the 90s, with the growing significance of computers in daily life, allowing the Western world to gain access to views of the way other cultures perceive colour. As exotic, orange spices from around the world became more familiar in the kitchen, we started to see orange in a different context than our own. We have come to embrace orange like never before.