Panatone has mapped a diverse range of skin tones and constructed a palette of nudes. I have a ambivalent relationship with skin colour: I realised a long time ago that I do not know what colour I am. By this, I do not mean that I am unable to distinguish colours but on a day-to-day basis, my colouring, nor anyone elses, is not what predominates my mind. In general, I would be hard pressed to pick the exact shade from the pantone shade card for myself or any one I know. I realise that I have a distinct colour more often than not, in comparison – as I hold a boyfriend’s hand, or stand beside somone while looking into the mirror. I have a strong suspicion that this is equally true for make-up artists and any one who works with skin shades, as much as it is true for most people, except possibly the more perspicacious. Estee Lauder, in fact, removes any second guessing by their sales assistants by providing them with a hand-held colour-meter that averages the tones from different areas of the skin so that they recommend the perfect shade of foundation.
This post is a collection that I want to begin where I trace the different shades of nude from lipsticks, to lingerie. The colours that describe the skin, flesh, or its decay are simply fascinating to me at the moment. This fascination grows especially with my thesis as I am trying to unfold the ideas behind universality and the quest for neutrality in internationalism. Nudes are seen as neutral, venerated as natural; however, the power and connotation behind nudes cannot be ignored.
I will not assume to do this over a single sitting, so this is a post that I am going to regularly update, where I share it with you as I learn and sharpen my own observations about this palette.
1. Ashes of Roses: For my first entry I will talk about a colour that has itched me for at least a quarter of a century. It was a colour described in Thorn Birds, written by Colleen McCullough where she described the dress that the protagonist wore to her debutante party. The dress was a dusky pink, or called the ‘Ashes of Roses’. I have never been able to pin down this colour. In my imagination it is the pale pink rose as it ages. The rose that in its life and youth was incompletely rendered, silent, pallid even. As it reaches the end of its life it infact, as a last act emits its most vivacious colouring, initially visible at the corners of the petals as they furl backwards – crinkled and browning. It is the colour of decay, the colour of a final act resolutly refusing to give up – a final push just before it dies.
2. ‘Nude for women of colour’: The phrase highlights the often forgotten fact: nude is a shade and not a colour, even if one would be deceived into describing it as a light pinky-beige because one is accustomed to that particular shade of nude. On dark skins, the colour nude (pinky-beige) gleams as white – ask any woman of colour who has attempted to wear diaphanous clothes where the colour of their lingerie becomes yet another colour jarring her ensemble. I first heard this phrase in a Ted Talk XPeckham by Ade Hassan, founder of Nubian Skin, a stockist of NUDE lingerie and hosiery for women of colour. The word Nubian has Egyptian roots meaning ‘gold’: the skin that glistens with sweat in the heat of the sun. As a shade, nude ranges from a dark brown to a pinky-beige and an even cream. At Nubian Skin the darker end of the spectrum is represented, euphemistically expressed through associations of coffee toppings – from milky brown ‘cafe au lait’ to caramel, cinammon and berry.
3. White, not unlike nude comes in an equally varied spectrum of shades. Ask any practicing architect who has attempted to paint a room in all white. A practiced practitioner would choose a range of shades of white; while an amateur would choose the same shade, which inadvertently would create a room that is coloured rather than white. White on wood, metal, aluminium, tiles, gypsum, upholstery will result in a cacophony of white in the dalylight lit room, and if lucky would blend very seamlessly in the evening incandescent light. Despite differences in shades of white, the modernists believed it to be universal and seemed to think of it as a single shade. To the Europeans it made sense – white reflected light in the short hours of daylight in the winter multiplying every rare beam of sunlight. In the summer it absorbed little heat, and was a canvas for clear geometrical shadows, creating a beautiful abstract grey scale symphony. It was thus, ideal for all the world. It was also associated with the Modern love of Greek antiquity – the simplicity and beauty of the Greek statues celebrating the bodily perfection of athletic man who bested nature, draped with white muslin like cloth that did not contort the body, instead, allowed it to be both veiled and revealed. Numerous scholars have discussed the bright colours in Greek art, architecture and statuary but fiction is far more compelling than fact. The adoption of white as a beacon of taste, culture and modernity was more pernicious and much older than the recent twentieth century – it was a marker of supremacy and judgement, a metaphor, and a constructor of class distinction and race discrimination. White is to architecture what pinky-beige nude was to make-up. It was the filter that distinguished women of a particular class and race.
4. “In the 1920s, the influence of Hollywood films brought about a revolution in bedroom wear. When the stars appeared in scenes set in bedrooms, they were put into satin so that they would shimmer in the studio lighting. Around the same time, Madame Vionner’s invention of the ‘bias’ cut allowed clothes to cling more closely to the body, so a generation of shiny, slinky, peachy or flesh-coloured nightgowns appeared.” – Lucy Worsley. ‘What to Wear in Bed’ in If Walls Could Talk