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Valentino, haute couture fall 2018. Photo: Hollandse Hoogte

THE HAGUE.- A famous scene from the film The Devil Wears Prada (2006) explains that your blue sweater is not just any old blue. And neither is it your personal choice. Its colour is the result of a chain of decisions made within the fashion industry, from the designer to the finished product. But there is even more to it than that, because a fashion colour is never just a colour: it is a bearer of meaning. The meanings we associate with colours have nothing to do with the colours themselves, but are determined by society. And those meanings shift between cultures and periods. Humans can distinguish many more colours than animals. This makes us unique and connects us, and partly explains our love of art and fashion. There are many stories to be told about the symbolism of colour in fashion: about the here and now, about the past, and about distant lands. Many of these stories are featured in the exhibition Fashion in Colour at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

Clear statement
Blue is the most popular colour for clothing in the Western world. This has its origins in the medieval cult of the Virgin Mary. Since the late Middle Ages, Mary has been depicted in blue robes, symbolic of goodness and modesty. Because this also appealed to the later Protestants, blue has remained a popular colour throughout the centuries. Colour in fashion works like a code, and of course it is fun to crack the code. Even today, the colours you wear can make a clear statement. Two recent examples illustrate this perfectly. The pantsuit Kamala Harris wore to accept her nomination as Joe Biden’s running mate in the forthcoming US elections was plum coloured, and with good reason: in America, there are three colours that are associated with the struggle for women’s right to vote: white for purity, gold for hope and purple for loyalty. And in early August, each of ten female Polish opposition MPs wore one of the colours of the LGBTQ+ flag and a rainbow-coloured face mask to protest the president’s controversial statements about ‘LGBTQ+ ideology’. The colours spoke for themselves. The exhibition Fashion in Colour at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag tells many more such stories about the symbolism of colour in fashion.

The relevance of colour
The exhibition reflects the current trend for bright colours in fashion. Is this a coincidence? As the great fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli once said: ‘In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous’. And that could certainly apply to fashion’s response to the current pandemic. Owing to the measures introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19, the Kunstmuseum Den Haag has had to rethink its planning for the autumn. The previously announced Dior exhibition has been postponed, but Fashion in Colour presents a highly relevant alternative. From earth tones and black to fuchsia and orange, you will see them all in this exhibition.

International top designers
The museum’s fashion curator, Madelief Hohé, conceptualised the exhibition during the lockdown and has developed it since May with her team of curators and conservators, and art director Maarten Spruyt. Many of the featured exhibits come from the museum’s extensive and multifaceted collections of historical costumes and contemporary fashion by leading Dutch and foreign designers. The exhibition also showcases highly colourful recent collections by Claes Iversen, Iris van Herpen, David Laport and Christopher John Rogers, among others. To analyse the colours of the historical costume collection, we have teamed up with the laboratory of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. We haven’t yet received all the results, but tests have already shown that many green dyes used in the nineteenth century contained arsenic, hence the colour’s association with poison.

Corona-proof
Every autumn, the Kunstmuseum Den Haag presents a major fashion exhibition. This autumn Fashion in Colour is the only major fashion exhibition in the Netherlands. It is also the museum’s first large exhibition that has had to take coronavirus guidelines into account from the initial concept. This means, among other things, that the exhibition is very spacious and contains hardly any film material and that explanatory texts are kept as short as possible. The focus is on discovering and experiencing colour. Visitors will be admitted to the exhibition in small groups, not only because of reserved time slots, but also because the first gallery features ‘The Theatre Machine’, an installation with light and colour designed for a limited number of people.

A vision of hope
The rainbow symbolises hope, courage, pride and gratitude. And all of its beautiful colours are featured in this exhibition. Fashion in Colour tells stories about hope and colour through the fashions of the past and the present. The exhibition presents several garments by designers including Valentino, Bas Kosters and Hanifa that have been designed with a message of hope. Dotted throughout the exhibition, they provide a diverse, hopeful and colourful vision of the future.

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Fong Leng, Mantel ‘Velaszqeuz’, Amsterdam 1974, silk, embroidery in gold and silver threads, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Evening dress, ca. 1927, silk, embroidery with sequins and glass beads, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Alice de Groot, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Valentino, haute couture fall 2018. Photo: Hollandse Hoogte.

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 Frans Molenaar, mini dress, cotton, ca. 1967, Kunstmuseum Den Haag Worn by Mies Bouwman; gift of the children of Mies Bouwman. Photo: Alice de Groot, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Nadie Borggreve, Ensemble, 2016. Courtesey Jasper Abels. Photo: Jasper Abels; styling: Maarten Spruyt and Lisa Anna Stuyfzand, model: Jordy Baan.

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David Laport, dress, 2018. Courtesey Jasper Abels. Photo: Jasper Abels; styling Maarten Spruyt and Lisa Anna Stuyfzand; model: Muna Mahamed.

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Vivienne Westwood, Two ensembles, summer 2020. Courtesey Vivienne Westwood.

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Vivienne Westwood, Two ensembles, summer 2020. Courtesey Vivienne Westwood. 

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Robe à l’anglaise ca. 1780-1782, silk, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Robe à l’anglaise ca. 1780-1782, silk, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Man’s coat and waistcoat, ca. 1793, silk. Yellow was the colour of the House of Bourbon and was worn by the contra revolutionists as a statement. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Man’s coat and waistcoat, ca. 1793, silk. Yellow was the colour of the House of Bourbon and was worn by the contra revolutionists as a statement. Woman’s dress in red silk, ca. 1793. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg Kunstmuseum Den Haag. 

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Maison de Bonneterie, Evening dress and stole, the Netherlands, 1955, artificial material, tulle, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Alice de Groot, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Emmanuel Ungaro, Ensemble, 1967, Wool, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Marty Basart, Man’s suit, 1969, Artificial material, cotton, metal. Made for a contest for students of fashion academies to honour the 100 years anniversiry of Dutch fashion company Peek & Cloppenburg in 1969. The name of the contest was ‘Costume for the future’. Photo: Kunstmuseum Den Haag 

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Dress, England, ca. 1860/1862, silk, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Alice de Groot, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Dress, ca. 1850-1852, moiré silk, Dress, England, ca. 1860-1865, silk, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Alice de Groot, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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 Christopher John Rogers, ensemble, silk, fall 2020. Photo: Hollandse Hoogte / Dia Dipasupil/AFP/ANP.

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Frank Govers, Evening dress, ‘Gauguin-like Wilderness’, silk with embroidery and glass beads, sequins, imitation pearls, spring 1988, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Foto: Erik en Petra Hesmerg, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Iris van Herpen, collection Shift Souls, 2019 ʻCOSMICAʼ MICRO DRESS, Vaporous coloured clouds by Kim Keever are printed on translucent organza, layered into a voluminous multi-dimensional print whose unfinished contours blur the body. Courtesy Iris van Herpen, Photo: Gio Staiano for NOW FASHION.

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Iris van Herpen, collection Shift Souls, 2019 ʻCOSMICAʼ MICRO DRESS, Vaporous coloured clouds by Kim Keever are printed on translucent organza, layered into a voluminous multi-dimensional print whose unfinished contours blur the body. Courtesy Iris van Herpen, Photo: Gio Staiano for NOW FASHION. 

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Iris van Herpen, collection Shift Souls, 2019 ʻCOSMICAʼ MICRO DRESS, Vaporous coloured clouds by Kim Keever are printed on translucent organza, layered into a voluminous multi-dimensional print whose unfinished contours blur the body. Courtesy Iris van Herpen, Photo: Gio Staiano for NOW FASHION.

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Dresses, ca. 1850-1855, silk, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Alice de Groot, Kunstmuseum Den Haag 

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Liberty & Co, Walking costume, silk, wool, London / the Nederlands, ca. 1906/1907 Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Dress, 1873-1879, silk, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Alice de Groot, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Claes Iversen, summer 2020. Courtesey Claes Iversen / Spice PR.

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Claes Iversen, summer 2020. Courtesey Claes Iversen / Spice PR.

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Reception dress, ca. 1878-1883, silk, cotton, the Netherlands, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg, Kunstmuseum Den Haag

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Hubert de Givenchy, Cocktail dress, silk, sequens, glass beads, fall 1960, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Worn by Audrey Hepburn. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Christopher John Rogers, ensemble, silk, fall 2020. Photo: Hollandse Hoogte Dia Dipasupil/AFP/ANP.

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Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Jumpsuit with coat spring 1991, Cotton, lycra, silk with sequins embroidery, ribbons. Issey Miyake, Pants suit Bamboo pleats, spring 1990; dress ‘Flying Sausers’, spring 1994, polyester, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Bas Kosters, Hope collection, 2018. Courtesey Bas Kosters: Foto: Marc Deurloo.

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Bas Kosters, Hope collection, 2018. Courtesey Bas Kosters: Foto: Marc Deurloo.

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Bas Kosters, Hope collection, 2018. Courtesey Bas Kosters: Foto: Marc Deurloo.

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Bas Kosters, Hope collection, 2018. Courtesey Bas Kosters: Foto: Marc Deurloo.

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Two gala dresses, ca. 1806-1808, cotton with silk, embroidery in gilded silver, ca. 1810, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Erik en Petra Hesmerg, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Jan Taminiau, Evening dress, silk, glass beads, Escher in het Paleis / Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Jan Taminiau, Ensemble, collection Nature Extends, 2014, silk, cork, sequins, on long-term on loan from from Limburgs Museum, Venlo

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Black Bride’s dress, altered to a maternity dress, 1889, silk, Kunstmuseum Den Haag. Photo: Alice de Groot, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

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Christopher John Rogers, ensemble, silk, fall 2020. Photo: Hollandse Hoogte / Dia Dipasupil/AFP/ANP.