More than ROYGBIV: On Underrated Colors

Originally Posted on The Yale Herald - Medium via UWIRE

Beaujolais — HEX: #80304C

What’s your favorite color? What a question. That’s like asking a cat lady which of her “children” is her favorite. When I’m asked this, I smile at my victim and say “beaujolais.” I know it’s just small talk and the options were “blue” or “yellow” (actually not yellow — no one’s favorite color is yellow), but why not opt for specificity? I’ll be honest, I don’t really have a singular favorite color, but saying “beaujolais” is fun and it makes me feel like a fancy francophile art snob. I first learned about the shade while reading my now-favorite book, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black. At one point, the main character looks off to the horizon and sees the “fertile plains of Burgundy and Beaujolais.” Like most French-sounding shades of dark red, beaujolais is a kind of wine produced in its namesake region. Beaujolais the region is in Eastern France, just south of Burgundy, near the Swiss border. Beaujolais the wine is a light-bodied red with fruity notes. I’ve actually never had Beaujolais wine, but traveling to France to visit the location of my favorite nineteenth-century French novels is totally on my bucket list. And while I’m sipping on my super French-sounding wine, hand me some cheese and pastries that I can’t pronounce — why not have the full experience?

But aside from food, what is France known for? Love. That’s right: love. When I say love, I obviously mean sex. A red rose implies romance, but a dark red rose is more intense. The deeper shade means a deeper love and, oftentimes, seduction or sexual energy. What a BDE move to say your favorite color is classy, sexy, French wine.

Marengo — HEX: #4C5866

Sorry, Quentin Tarantino fans, I said marengo, not Django. Marengo is a shade of grey with just a hint of blue. It takes its name from Spinetta Marengo, a small town in Northern Italy, best known for the Battle of Marengo (1800) in which Napoleon crushed the Austrian forces. Weavers in the town of Marengo produced a grey-black fabric with flecks of white — the resulting shade is what we know as marengo today. Marengo existed in the 18th century, but it was only after the Battle of Marengo that the fabric gained popularity. Napoleon himself wore a marengo overcoat, catapulting the shade into its 15 minutes of fame. I guess Napoleon was extra proud of his conquest — or he just liked the name of the town — because he gave the name “Marengo” to his horse, a grey Arabian who compensated for his small size with courageousness (much like his rider). Sadly, Marengo the horse wasn’t marengo the color; however, the technique of blending shades of black, grey, and white in marengo fabric is very similar to the blending of hairs in the coats of roan horses. Roan coats on horses are the result of the blending of several colors of hairs to create an average hue. No one hair may resemble the overall coat. Who knew one shade of grey could be so interesting? No need for 49 more.

Sable — HEX: #000000

Grab your croissants, folks, because it’s time for the third installment of French Stuff in Colors. Let’s talk about sable. In French, “sable” means “sand,” which long led me to believe that the shade sable was tan-hued. I was late-night binge-reading Wikipedia (as one does) when I learned that sable means black. However, sable isn’t just any kind of black — sable is the shade of black used in heraldry, the aesthetics of arms and armor. Who knows why the old white men of the Middle Ages couldn’t just say “black” when they commissioned their shields? Coats of arms are described in words, or blazons, with each color, pattern, and symbol having its own place and term. While the blazons for shields are uniform, it is the image that’s somewhat variable. For example, Wikipedia tells us that the insignia for Jonathan Edwards College’s coat of arms includes a “lion rampant vert armed and langued gules” (a green, rearing lion with red claws and tongue). The artist can decide the size, hairiness, and expression of the lion. All that matters is its pose and color. The etymology of sable comes from Eastern Europe, where an animal called the sable is indigenous. Sables are a species of marten, a critter in the weasel family, whose dark fur was prized in Medieval Europe. The French word for “sable” (the weasel) is also “sable,” which is extremely confusing. This means that “sable” can mean: sand, the color of sand, the Russian weasel, or heraldic black. I see a red door, and I want to paint it sable.


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