At this very second I’m sitting in a café in the West Village completely draped in black from head to toe. Me: a very skinny pair of charcoal “Spray On Skinny” jeans (Top Shop); a totally sheer black tank top (American Apparel); 12 metal bracelets alternating color in this order: grey, metallic, black, grey, metallic, black, repeat (Top Shop); a black key necklace (unknown); vintage black Cuban heel boots (thrift store); and a black man bag (Yves Saint Laurent). I’m a cloud of total darkness.
Everything fabulous comes in black: Charles Baudelaire, Honoré de Balzac, Karl Lagerfeld, Leigh Lezark, Ann Demeulemeester, Rad Hourani, Rick Owens, madison moore. Wherever you look, people are always describing super trendy/neat/exciting things as “the new black.”
As a color, black is a just a little bit bipolar. It has long been associated with things like urbanity, artistry, trendiness, romanticism, and elegance – but also death, darkness, void, bad stuff, fear, and the unknown. The dandies of 19th Century France (Baudelaire et al) all hid behind a veil of blackness. Today, you wear black to a funeral, but you also wear black to a club or a job interview. You wear black if you’re waiting tables. You wear black when you’re in an orchestra (invisible servants). Men wear black tuxedos on many occasions, and Coco Chanel’s “little black dress” is timelessly chic. And that’s why every fall designers all over the world show black clothes and assure us that “black is back” when, actually, it never really went anywhere.
Almost nothing turns me on more than black clothes. I don’t think I could ever own enough black. My favorite favorite piece is this black asymmetrical cloak I got from OAK, a carefully hip avant garde boutique in New York that specializes in All Black. When I step inside the cloak, all the sudden there’s this fabulous black fabric dangling below me and I feel like a high fashion super hero.
I’ve always heard that the colors we are drawn to say a great deal about our personalities. So what are my favorite colors? Cream, taupe, royal purple, grey, white, red, gold, silver, and navy blue. I go from the invisibility of whites and greys to the explosions of gold and red. But for me, black is really the only color that captures my whole personality and mood. My most dominant and confusing trait is the desire to be seen and hidden, there and not there, mysterious and open, hard and soft, edgy and romantic all at the same time. Just the other day my friend told me that she has never felt genuinely loved and cared about and brutally rebuffed at the same time. Shrug?
Some people think that a love for black means that you’re insecure about color. But I don’t know if I buy that. A few days ago I was re-watching The September Issue and Vogue editor Anna Wintour was really annoyed about the amount of black clothes featured in the magazine. No black! No black! No black! Color and vibrancy is the key. But compare Anna’s approach to French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld who loves black because it’s classic, existential, and always chic. There’s something really American about bright and bold colors – think about Pop art, perhaps the most American form of modern art, and it was all about bright colors.
I think I’ve figured out that the thing that draws me in to black, and the key to its timelessness is that black is minimal, is a statement that doesn’t make a statement. Forget garishness, which I kind of hate. Minimalism basically strips away all the excess fat (trends) and forces you to focus on form, which is where you’ll find the real style anyway. It relies on the ease and regularity of geometry, little color and variation to create a crisp, clean aesthetic. Minimalism works because it’s a style that’s not really a style.
One of my favorite painters is the lesser-known Abstract Expressionist Ad Reinhardt, whose later style is a rejection of iconography/images by using teeny variations in color to create depth and visual interest. In his series of black paintings, at first glance you think you’re just looking straight into a black void of nothingness. But if you take another look, the paintings aren’t really all and totally black: the thing is made up of ever-so-slight changes in blacks, greys, and there’s even an image of a cross at the center. You can’t simply judge this painting by its color. If you look at it and say, “Oh, it’s just a black painting” and keep zooming past, you’ll miss the chance to get to really get to know and see what that work is really about.
I am that Ad Reinhardt painting.