Camilla is right! Mauve is dull and menopausal… but purple reigns, writes BEL MOONEY
- How refreshing that Camilla refused to wear the mauve dress handed by Vogue
- I share the Duchess’s views about the colour, which has shades of the 1950s
- The quest for superior purple – as Shakespeare’s Cleopatra knew – is ancient
- And remember that London’s new Elizabeth Line is glorious purple, too
How good it was to read that the clever, independent-minded Duchess of Cornwall refused to wear the mauve dress suggested by fashionistas for a Vogue photo shoot and supplied her own elegant blue one instead.
The Duchess of Cornwall is pictured in glorious purple at Westminster Abbey in 2017
Good on her! She looked magnificent!
I share Camilla’s views about mauve — that sickly pinkish-lilac, with more pink in it than blue. Like her, I associate mauve with old ladies’ cardigans in the 1950s.
It’s a pale, post-menopausal hue that drains the colour from older skin and sends a sign that you have given up thinking you can make a statement with your clothes.
A friend mentioned that he thought I liked mauve. Oh, no, no, no! He is mixing up that anodyne, apologetic, blushing nothing-of-a-shade with my love of powerful purple and vibrant violet.
Violet is the last colour in the spectrum, after indigo, and speaks to me of richness and strength — just as it did in the ancient world, when it was beloved of the Romans as a sign of wealth and prestige.
I started wearing purple in 1966, mostly woolly hats and scarves, graduating to the flowered purple and black mini-coat and dress (bought in Oxford Street) that I wore for my first marriage in 1968.
Sadly there are no colour photographs, but the rich needlecord was accessorised with dark lilac shoes, gloves and handbag, and a shocking pink hat decorated with the bunch of violets that my new husband bought me that rainy February morning. I was just 21.
Camilla, pictured with Charles during a Kiwi trip in 2015, has always had an eye for fashion
Marrying again in 2007, at nearly 61, when it came to what to wear I didn’t have to think for long.
This time (more solvent by now) I chose a pretty cocktail dress made by the London and Cheltenham company Beatrice von Tresckow, with a gorgeous violet silk embroidered bodice and violet chiffon over turquoise silk skirt.
I love it so much I wore the same dress for my daughter’s wedding two years later, and again for a friend’s smart birthday. It’s a bit snug now, but I’m determined to wear it again one day.
What is it about shades of purple? To dispense with ‘mauve’ right away, that colour was discovered accidentally in 1856 by William Henry Perkin, an 18-year-old chemistry whizz who was seeking a synthetic alternative to quinine, the malaria remedy. He added hydrogen and oxygen to coal tar, noticed a strange dark residue when washing his flasks — and discovered mauve.
But according to Victoria Finlay’s superb book, Colour: Travels Through The Paintbox, he didn’t call this new shade mauve, but ‘Tyrian purple.’
When I married for a second time in 2007, it did not take me long to pick the right colour
She writes: ‘By 1858, every lady in London, Paris and New York who could afford it was wearing “mauve”, and Perkin, who had set up a dye factory with his father and brother, was set to be a rich man before he reached his 21st birthday’.
Of course, the shade Camilla and I both dislike is just one shade of a colour-range that can be described as amethyst, clover, lupin, magenta, orchid, plum (and many more) depending on the mix of blue and red, as well as white for the pale tones.
Many people will argue that mauve is pretty and flattering. But when Shakespeare describes Queen Cleopatra’s magnificent barge — ‘The poop was beaten gold, Purple the sails’ — he was imagining a deep opulence fit to dazzle generals and Emperors, not a pale imitation.
The quest for that purple takes us back into ancient history, and the natural, much-prized, rich colour made from the shellfish Murex brandaris, found in the Eastern Mediterranean. But the secret of ‘Tyrian purple’ had disappeared, until archaeologists began a quest to rediscover it in the 1860s.
In a difficult and expensive process, hundreds of thousands of the tiny sea snails had to be found, their shells cracked and the snail removed.
The snails were left to soak in a mixture of wood ash, water and urine, then a tiny gland was removed and the juice extracted and placed in the sunlight — to change colour through white, then green, then violet, then a red which turned darker and darker.
More than 250,000 shellfish were needed to extract just half an ounce of dye — enough for a single toga.
The process had to be stopped at exactly the right time to obtain the colour purple — rich and bright, and fit only for the wealthy.
Is my love of purple a sign of vainglory? Probably! In Ancient Rome, solid purple robes were a sign of victory and status.
At my mother’s recent funeral, I wore a favourite purple dress (seen each week in my byline picture on my Saturday advice column in the Mail) under a plum cotton velvet coat scattered with dark pink and purple flowers. Mum would have approved. She wasn’t that keen on black.
In a Vogue photo shoot to mark her 75th birthday, the Duchess of Cornwall looked spectacular
I’m obsessed with amethyst jewellery and now my newly-planted summer pots are full of the purple salvia that bees love so much, different hues of lilac and purple Nemesia and purple petunias.
My favourite roses, called Rhapsody in Blue, are a glorious reddish-purple, and just now (after rain) their spilled petals are as extravagant as a florid purple passage in prose.
Twelve years ago I painted our bathroom deep purple, which is the colour of peace and spirituality, just as a paler lilac is thought to be the colour of healing (both excellent colours for an advice columnist).
So, Camilla, I’m with you on that pinkish mauve — but do please join me in wearing vibrant purple! It’s the most beautiful colour with fair hair.
And remember that the colour of the brand new Elizabeth Line in London is a beautiful purple.
As Cleopatra knew, this is a colour fit for a Queen.