Raspberry and violet. Aubergine and flame. Plum and chartreuse.
These are far from easy colour combinations. It is a measure of designer John Galliano's discerning eye that for his spring/summer 2010 Christian Dior haute couture collection he managed to mix these, and more, with enviable aplomb. Even the most minimally minded devotee of a restrained palette couldn't have failed to be seduced by the sheer audacity, not to mention opulence, of it all.
In a season where, for the most part, only the softest of hues have taken centre stage, this served as a reminder that, in the right hands, stronger shades, and in particular the unusual juxtaposition of stronger shades, is a highly seductive proposition.
Galliano himself claimed to be inspired by the Anglo-American Charles James – famously far from shy as far as an experimental palette was concerned, and among the first of the great colourists who have brightened up the world of fashion as if their very existence depended upon it. In the Seventies, Yves Saint Laurent made a name for himself with a liberal use of poppy red, papal purple and fuchsia in particular. Christian Lacroix's maximal approach (pictured, autumn/ winter 2003) to women's dress was most evident in his insistence that every garment must be rich in saturated colour – often clashing saturated colour – from the silk flowers in his models' hair to their stockings, which were, more often than not, turquoise, tangerine, turmeric... the list goes on.
More recently, Miuccia Prada has taken up this mantle. If the colour in her current collection is uncharacteristically subdued, it is certainly the exception that proves the rule. For this designer turquoise and orange, crimson and mustard and, a particular favourite, toffee and rose are all de rigueur. The more surprising – and challenging – the shade, the better.
For those who like their fashion elitist this is perhaps the most fail-safe approach despite – and indeed because of – the fact that it is so difficult to pull off. The high street copycats might be able to rustle up interpretations of even the most idiosyncratic of repeat prints, impressively elaborate embroideries and even pioneering trouser shapes before the originals that inspire them have gone into production. Budget re-working of strong colour, however, and particularly strong colour that jars just so with its equally show-stopping neighbour, is more complex.
As for the woman who dares to wear such hues: she too is a rarity and a precious one at that. Far from the type to worry herself with the banalities of whether something is flattering, say, or even suits her complexion, she is exotic in the extreme, appearing like a bird of paradise in an elsewhere determinedly neutral crowd.