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SEEING COLORS: VIOLET

Over the coming months, interiors journalist and author Kate Watson-Smyth will be exploring color in all its shades. What each hue means, why we react to it, how to choose the right one for the right room and when that might start to affect what happens in there. What you are about to discover may surprise you…

And so we come to the end of the rainbow. Richard Of York has Given Battle In Vain and we have reached violet—the seventh and the most rarely seen of the colors. But last never did mean least, and violet boasts as much meaning and significance as the rest of the spectrum.

Much was made last November of Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. The defeated Democratic candidate emerged the day after the US presidential election wearing a purple pantsuit, while Bill stood sadly behind her in a matching tie. The commentators all remarked on this choice of color.


Tyrian purple—made from the secretions of sea snails—may have been used by the Phoenicians as far back as 1570 BC.


It was, said some, midway between red and blue—did she choose it to indicate that it was time for a compromise between Republicans and Democrats? Others said it was a nod to those swing states that she so fatally failed to turn blue—they are also known as the purple states. Or was it a call for unity?

‘I still believe in America and I always will,’ Clinton said.

Vanity Fair suggested it had more to do with the suffragette movement, or perhaps the Methodists, in whose church Clinton was raised, who believe purple is the color of penitence.

The National Women’s Party—whose colors are purple, white and gold—say it is the color of ‘loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause.’ It is also, of course, and more traditionally, known as the color of royalty. Clinton may not be president but some would perhaps have her as queen.


By the time Elizabeth I came to the throne, the most expensive of all fabrics—purple velvet—was restricted to the monarch only.


Purple’s associations with royalty date back thousands of years. Tyrian purple—made from the secretions of sea snails—may have been used by the Phoenicians as far back as 1570 BC. Indeed, Phoenicia means ‘land of purple’ and the color was highly prized as it did not fade like other shades but instead became brighter in the sunlight.

It was expensive to produce as so many snails were needed to yield even the tiniest amount, so naturally purple became associated with the wealthy. It was later restricted for the use of imperial silks.

In the Tudor period, only the royal family was allowed to wear purple as part of the sumptuary laws. Such laws dictated what you could wear according to your position in society and Henry VIII changed these laws several times during his reign, regarding them as a way to maintain the natural hierarchy of society.

In addition to the rules governing purple, for example, only a lord was allowed to wear imported wool. Everyone else had to wear British, which was Henry’s way of protecting the domestic wool trade.


In its palest incarnation—lavender—purple is a cool, relaxing color that invokes the French countryside.


By the time his daughter Elizabeth I came to the throne, the most expensive of all fabrics—purple velvet—was restricted to the monarch only.

But, as with so many colors, its meaning changes according to where in the world you find it. So, in Tudor Britain, violet was also the color of mourning while in the modern US, the Purple Heart denotes courage and honors those who have been wounded or killed in action. In Thailand, it is for widows mourning their husbands and in Japan it denotes status and wealth.

In religion, the purple amethyst is said to be sacred to Buddha while in Christianity priests wear purple vestments to signify reconciliation during Advent and Lent.

Psychologically, purple is the color of spirituality and is said to encourage creativity as well as calming the mind and nerves. On the flip side, it represents both decadence and pomposity.

When it comes to interiors, it’s no surprise to learn that violet, if used sparingly, brings a sense of luxury to a space. It also pairs well with other jewel tones such as jade, gold and deep red. All these shades, especially when used in velvet, are currently deeply fashionable in interiors. Perhaps when the world order is uncertain, it is a natural reaction to feather your own nest and cocoon oneself in comfort.

In its palest incarnation—lavender—purple is a cool, relaxing color that invokes the French countryside. But at the other extreme—aubergine—it is dark and mysterious and perhaps best kept to accents or it can overwhelm a space and create a rather intense atmosphere.

We may have reached the end of the rainbow but the series will continue with a look at those other shades not commonly found among the seven: black, white, gray, brown and metallics. After all, it is neutral shades that are usually paired with the brighter colors in both our homes and our wardrobes.


Where in the house would you use the color purple? Snap a shot and share with us @momentumtravel.

Photo: Shutterstock

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