Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Hunt for Red September

Often dye recipe on red start with warnings: do not say that something is red until you see it really is 'the' red. Maybe because red is an emotional colour: it can be an agressive colour, it lights up many dull ensembles and the sayings involving red are innumerable.

That's why it has to be right: red can be radiant as no other colour, but could easily be converted into 'just another staple'. As fashion magazines recently claimed: 'red is the new black'.
But that was not as quickly as they would like you to believe.
Because Red, to name the colour with a capital, known in various tints and marketing guises (most famous as 'Turkish Red') is not easily replacable, not a background colour, and, for that reason, not everybody's colour.
Red has to be warm and deep. Of course it will dull a bit of age and wear, but will still have that special charm.
And maybe exactly for this same reason, the subtle warm hues of natural Red are coming back into the spotlight.

The dyestuff that is most recognisable associated with red is madder, a plant that stacks its deep colour in its long roots. Cultivated throughout Europe, it has long been recognized that the best madder stems from the Dutch shores. Two-three year old plants were harvested in September, cut in local mills, and sold through the harbour of Dordrecht and other cities.
Philip Miller wrote a nice book in 1758 about the madder culture in Zeeland, and had extensive contact with botanist Job Baster on the million-guilder trade. He tried to convince England to start growing madder themselves, but the 'fat clay' of the Schelde area proved hard to beat.
Finally, the threat for the trade came from an unsuspected new enemy.
After commercial synthesis of alazarin (the red pigment involved) from oil during the 1860's improved, madder growing slowly vanished into a side-trade for those lagging behind.
But as the costs (and pollution) of chemical dye-industries rose in the end of the 20th century, companies began to see renewed profit in the growing of madder.
The Dutch fim (http://www.rubiapigmentanaturalia.nl/) that started in this trade is now even expanding into research of yellow dyes, and have shown repeatedly on the Première Vision in Paris.
It would be interesting to see which products will actually be using their prodcts. Curtain producers Ploeg have shown interest because of the deep and well fading colours, and I could foresee a well produced line of nicely aging pants in bright red colours.
Now that aging and indigo-dyeing are showing at the forefront of the interests of the apparel-industry, this should not be so hard.
Red jeans, anyone?

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