The Power of Colour

  • Victoria Jackson (Participant)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course


Phantom Colours – Colour, Fashion and Cinema in the 1920s This paper will consider the interrelationship of colour, fashion and Technicolor in the 1920s through an examination of the intermedial context of colour standardisation and categorisation. The 1920s was a period in which colour was highly 'in vogue'. In the art, advertising, architecture, design and cinema of the jazz age, cultural fascination with colour was lively. Colour was also a subject of intense international debates concerning its artistic, scientific, philosophical and educational significance. Moreover, with the development of new and more accessible dyes, colour was more freely available to be exploited and experimented with. As in the case of cinema where colour was used in a variety of ways. Stencil, tinting and toning, which had been developed for film colouring in the early 1900s, were still frequently used technologies, as were new systems such as Prizma, Technicolor and others. It was also a decade that saw increased activity around colour standardization and categorisation and moreover efforts to produce a universal colour nomenclature. Colour systems such as the Munsell system were promoted as meanings of measuring and standardising colour. In addition agencies such as America’s National Bureau of Standards were experimenting with the measurement of colour for a range of potential uses (Johnston, 2001). The language used to describe colour was also the focus of research by contemporaries culminating in 1930 in the publication of a Dictionary of Colour. Its purpose was to record all colour names in use up to that time and to provide ‘a record of color words and the particular sensations they identify’ (Maerz and Paul 1930). This desire to control the language of colour provides an interesting antithesis to the main function of colour in fashion. ‘Fashion thrives on novelty and change’ (Arnold, 2009) and colours are one means by which fashion can reinvent itself with each new season. This tension of colour in fashion is present in the world of textile and retail industry. For example, the Textile Color Card Association in America promoted the standardization of colours across the fashion industries as well as predicting and naming colours for the following season for the textile and retail industry (Blaszczyk, 2012). Thus proving there was a desire for both standardisation and variety in the growing consumer culture, resulting in colours becoming commodities. These intermedial conditions provide an important context to the development and use of colour in film during the decade and in particular the close interrelationship between colour, fashion and film. In order to explore these themes we will limit ourselves to two colours that were 'hot' in the spring of 1926 but were also linked to color films: Alice Blue from Irene (Green, 1926) and Phantom Red from Phantom of the Opera (1925). Both functioned within a remarkable intermedial network, not only were they famous for the use of a Technicolor II inserts but also for their connection to glamorous women. These stars functioned as examples for young girls that were searching for their identity in this ‘jazz age’ or 'années folles'. The paper will explore the history of both colours, their origins and changing meanings, through their interaction with the film they were featured in and the wider world of fashion and beyond. In this way, we hope to provide a better understanding of the meaning and function of colour in connection to cinema and fashion and of the friction between the wish to control and the need to vary in capitalistic consumer culture.
Period24 Jul 2013
Event typeOther
LocationBerlin, United KingdomShow on map


  • Phantom Red
  • Alice Blue
  • Colour
  • Colour Film
  • Technicolor
  • Fashion