Fashion: How to win the primaries

Little black dress be gone: this spring is all about postbox-reds and canary-yellows as designers find inspiration in the unlikely form of the Rubik's Cube

It is strange how deeply colours seem to penetrate one, like scent," says Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot's Middlemarch. And primary colours – brilliant reds, blues and yellows – though greens, as well, seem to penetrate deepest of all: fresh acerbic tones that cut through the grime of everyday life.

Certainly they were in bold evidence on the spring/summer catwalks. At 3.1 Phillip Lim, there were tart yellow and pillar-box-red separates. And Alber Elbaz knocked up a rainbow of coloured dresses: contriving an egg-yellow billowing dress and two bright grass-green dresses, one off the shoulder and floor-length and one in silk satin with frills cascading down the arms.

It could have something to do with the revived fashionability of the primary-dominated Rubik's Cube (which now features in a prominent car ad) and Lego bricks, which have both become totemic accessories for this summer's look.

Katie Hillier, whose nostalgic Lego-brick hair accessories at Marc for Marc Jacobs (a collaboration with New York's Ricky and Dee) caused a storm when sent down the runway last season, is a strong believer in the move towards primaries. "Your eye is naturally more receptive to true primary colours," she says. "I also think people love bright colours – but they aren't always easy to wear, so using them on accessories is the perfect way not to feel too much like a clown."

Indeed, adding a small increment of colour to your outfit can be enough to lift it beyond the humdrum. You could do as Miuccia Prada's Miu Miu label did and use your primaries as part of a bigger pattern: this season she showed an illustrated babydoll silk tunic with a harlequin-inspired motif. Or you could follow the lead of Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson, who recently walked the red carpet in canary-yellow, but dressed it down through their use of accessories: opt for something small and subtle such as a silver leather bag. Or you could simply go for vivid accessories themselves. Grab yourself a bright patent tote bag from Tod's, a Chanel clutch, or a strappy scarlet Sonia Rykiel shoe.

The trend for brightness is also emanating from the art world. Installations artist Matthew Ronay creates visual puzzles using bright colours and cartoonish shapes – with oversized lips in singing carmine red, trees in golf green and pools of azure blue populating his idiosyncratic works. Likewise, Marta Marcé, artist in residence at Camden Arts Centre last year, deploys a riot of bright colour in her work. Her abstract canvases, which experiment with form and colour, often have citric-yellow backdrops criss-crossed with taut ribbons of red and green or feature large discs of blue purple green and pink. The illustrator Julie Verhoeven, also a fan of brights in her pieces, feels the fashion moment for primaries has come. "I think fashion feels less polite at present and primary colours reflect that. They are celebratory and youthful."

Showing off that youthfulness, the label David David's first collection, for spring/ summer, was emblazoned with geometric designs in eye-popping primaries. "My collection is about vividness, bold use of colour, energy and youth," says the label's creator, David Saunders. "I wanted to produce something that stood out."

He believes the trend is tied in with summer – "bright sun and fresh flowers" and "coming out of winter hibernation" – but why is it happening this year in particular? "It's the energy," he says. "There's a lot of buzz in London on the fashion scene right now. And if you go to club nights such as BoomBox [at London's Hoxton Bar & Kitchen], half the people there are wearing really bright colours."

Henry Holland, who showed Yves Klein-blues and chlorophyll greens for his autumn/ winter collections, agrees that it's a huge trend right now. "Colour is big in the clubs at the moment – people just want to express their individuality and colour can help them do that in a sea of little black dresses."

So primary colour is coming from the clubs, from art, from accessories and finally from the catwalks themselves. London-bus-red lipstick for example, sang out at a host of shows for spring/summer, including Chanel, Daks by Giles Deacon and Louise Goldin, who also went for cobalt primary blues and a large dose of lemon-yellow. "People are drawn to bright colours, particularly for spring and summer," says Goldin. "I used integrated colours inside of jacquard and intarsia knits to create a vibrant and energetic visual effect."

It's the effect primary colours have when worn that really converts both the wearer and viewer. "Red is the biggest stimulant of all the colours," explains Saunders. "You are immediately attracted towards people wearing primary colours. It's about creating an impact. When you wear bright colours you have the opportunity to be noticed."

Beauty spot: Illuminate the room with a splash of pink

By Eliisa Makin

1. Eye lights

Pink eyeshadow, £10, www.mac
From a range of poster-paint brights

2. Hot lips

Pink lipstick, £8.50,
Sugary gloss

3. Top tips

Pink nail varnish, £3.75, by Mavala, tel: 01732 459 412
Relive the 1980s

4. On the lash

Pink mascara, £4.95, by Barry M, from Superdrug nationwide
Only for the brave