Colour Intelligence: The history of colour, going beyond the surface

Recently while taking part in a discussion about colour on Radio 4’s Womens Hour, I was lucky enough to meet Kassia St Clair, writer of the Secret Lives of Colour- a book that explores the history of colour.

Kassia is a design journalist and author based in London. She studied history at Bristol University and went on to gain a master’s degree at Oxford, specialising in historical clothing. Her first book, The Secret Lives of Colour (a must-read), tells the stories of 75 unusual colours, “from amber to absinthe, puce to pitch black, and from shocking pink to acid yellow.”

When we met, she talked about the origins of the colour pink as part of the Radio 4 show topic, specifically how pink has evolved from being girly to cool (to the colour of the moment). I found that through talking to her, her approach to looking at colour can totally change the way you look at a certain tone.

Kassia looks back through history to explain the colours of today, in some cases back to the origins of man and the relationship to the colour red. Red was the first actual colour name created during the development of language and it’s believed this was to do with the connection between life, death and blood (plus the idea of a large percentage of the earth being made from Hematite, an iron based mineral with a red-rust streak).

Victoria Beckham red NYFW


history of colour: Givenchy red at fashion week

history of colour: Givenchy red

“Some colours that I researched span 100 years or so,” Kassia explained to me, “So, with these being so popular I wanted to give some context to them. Some colours have a real history, meaning and purpose. It’s interesting to see how these have developed over the years.”

“During my research, colour was highlighted a lot, in particular colour names that I hadn’t heard of previously. Some shades still exist today, however many have been lost. I loved the cultural context, and how even then the names and choices were very much affected by trends,” she added.

We were so inspired by Kassia’s approach to colour that we asked her to tell us about the background of our SS18 5 key colours- Colour Intelligence – The Deeper Meaning of Colour – subscribers check it out here)

Find out more about Kassia and her colour research here.

Want to know more about the colour forecasting process and trend research? Check out this blog

For more from this WGSN author, follow Jane on Instagram here.

Know what’s next. Become a WGSN member today to benefit from our daily trend intelligence, retail analytics, consumer insights and bespoke consultancy services.