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In fashion, like in a painting, hue relationships, intensity and value contrasts work together in a composition, providing balance and unity. Value contrasts, one of the most valuable color tools, can suppress one area to enhance another, and move the eye around an outfit. The designer decides the direction. Transcendence occurs when everything works together and we can’t take our eyes off the outfit. In FW2017, a few designers have achieved it
In the cover image, Yohji Yamamoto’s garments are of many hues, yet they really tell a value story. The values are all within a narrow range of middle gray tones, with a slight gradient movement giving a dusty appearance to all hues, allowing them to exist quietly together. It takes a full two minutes of gazing at the coat on the left to realize that it’s kaleidoscopic.
Upon more study, the hues fall into color relationships: barely-there green with fellow secondary-hue orange; filmy analogous reds and oranges; dusty violets with camouflage greens.
One entirely visible red coat grudgingly allows the dusty blue and violet lining to appear, then the striped patterns in the vest and pants, and finally – finally – the green shirt. It just takes time. It’s even more satisfying reversed. The voluminous shapes would make any type of man feel comfortable, crazy red notwithstanding.
Value plays a key architectural role in Kenzo FW2017. The middle gray coat has black elements placed strategically on the sides plus sleeves, uniting them and slimming the width, enhancing the female form. Those black buttons might look unimportant, but they function subliminally to bridge the black elements across the front, creating a unified design. Notice how covering them up with your finger creates three separate, unconnected value areas.
Kenzo’s plaid skirt swirls a delicate glowing yellow in an elegant arc from the model’s right hip down to the left ankle. Value is crucial here: the pale yellow is visible precisely because it lives in a sea of middle gray and black.
The shape brings the value situation up to brilliance by the swirl, with the width at the hip boosted by the sleeves. If the top were anything but middle gray, it would not support the skirt’s complex shaping.
In the dress, a sparkling, flashing pulse zigzags diagonally across the body. Why does it do this? If the plaid on the right side ran throughout the dress without the plaid on the left side, it might produce an overwhelming black/white value contrast that is static. But the cloth draped like a shawl mimics its diagonal movement and softens the harshness with its middle values, and the two draw the eye back and forth in that electrical way.
DSquared2 relies on black/white contrast in thin lines, optically forming a middle value, and then arranges values in gradient order, in shapes determined by the silhouettes of the drapey cut up shirts and skirts.
Sacai’s low values and similar intensities keep contrasts down with several hues and patterns.
To further understand, consider Balmain’s FW2017 line. Pattern mixtures pop with higher intensities and value contrasts, changing everything. A different kind of man would wear these clothes, in age and psychographics - more of a peacock.
It’s easy enough to produce a collection with one color per outfit, and say that you use color. More challenging is manipulating colors together like the tools they are, using hue relationships to move the eye across the entire body and back again, with every element in proportion and doing its job. That’s a job for a master.
Feel free to check out my textbook called Color: How to Use It by Marcie Cooperman, published by Pearson.