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Ready To Wear: Purple reign: the regal colour sweeps in for autumn


"I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendours without fear thrown into my path," Agamemnon tells Clytemnestra in Aeschylus' famed Greek tragedy, before stepping on to the purple carpet that signifies the beginning of his downfall nonetheless.

No such reservations for this season's fashion designers. Purple may be the colour of the gods but both Christopher Kane (in London) and Miuccia Prada (in Milan) threw caution to the wind by covering their catwalks in it and sending out clothes to match. If ever proof were needed that this is an industry that's far from shy, then here it is in spades. And purple's none too straightforward reputation extends beyond that. "When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple," writes the poet Jenny Joseph, citing this gesture as a prime example of the freedom from any sense of decorum, aesthetic or otherwise, a certain age affords.

For Kane, purple's somewhat turbulent reputation appears to be part of its appeal. He himself described the purple flocked velvet in his collection as "disgusting". It reminds him of coffin cladding. And purple, in Victorian times, was indeed a colour associated with mourning: purple ribbons were once tied around ladies perfume bottles during such periods and purple clothing was viewed as a suitable alternative to black during half-mourning, too.

Ever the fashion antagonist, Prada's attraction to all things widely deemed difficult is well known. There's nothing this designer likes more than a challenge, after all: a purple and orange graphic print trouser suit, anyone? Neither, growing up in Italy, will she be unaware of purple's relationship with the Vatican.

Purple dye, originally made from Murex shells, was the most expensive throughout Antiquity and beyond, and wearing it was therefore the preserve of judges and Popes.

Not any more. This season we will all have the opportunity to dress in this once supremely elitist and/or funereal hue. But be warned: as well as wearing purple, Jenny Joseph also dreams of one day learning to "spit".

While the artist formerly known as Prince may have done his best to reverse purple's fortunes way back, its grand and unforgiving nature makes it far from a colour easily associated with shrinking violets.