Apart from the glowing prestige of the Hermes Birkin, orange can be a difficult colour to wear. Fluorescent mistakes aside, it’s a colour reserved for summer, worn in various shades on a bikini, handbag embroidery or painted on our toe-nails; not often seen in the office or out in the evening. Thankfully I’m not alone in my confusion, considering Alexandra Shulman’s recent Twitter musings, ‘Really polished @richardnichollsstudio show. Even makes orange an option; bright colours are difficult to wear’, but orange is one that takes courage, as well as the right skin-tone. Yet it frequents the collections in luxury women’s wear, with equally warm reception. But why?
Although the difficulty of orange is a bold claim to make, there’s no denying it’s popularity among luxury designers. Mulberry’s A/W 2012 collection in particular, saw juicy tones of orange on dresses, gloves and handbags, sometimes worn at once, used to unite the “warm autumn tones” with the earthy russet-inspired shades of winter. The same trend was used by Matthew Williamson; bold orange felted coats and orange roses adorning black cotton dresses in his line inspired by the Northern Lights. All styled to perfection retaining the redeeming qualities of orange in ‘spicing up’ an outfit, but what of the high-street? Memories of fluorescent orange summer wear plague my memory and I’m determined to understand why such a difficult colour is still so popular.
Motivated by both curiosity and the thrill of experimentation, I decided to try orange out for myself. Standing in the glossy maze of Westfield in Shepherds Bush, what was surprising was seeing orange reflected in the high-street with equal rigour as the luxury domain. Styling orange as a blocked colour is pretty common so to spice things up, my quest included using orange in different styles of dressing, changing the use of the colour in correlation with a dress code one might be accommodating to. Whilst I’m accustom to orange within an Aztec-influence pattern, the colour-blocked, lace-trimmed, altogether-more-mature attitude I was surrounded by seemed to have taken orange and shaped it different than expected, rendering an optimistic outlook for my experiment.
Focusing on casual day-wear, the first piece was a ruched, ribbed day-dress in tangerine from River Island, with a black and gold belt. The colour made an impressive impact almost immediately. The most noticeable attribute about orange when trying on the clothes was that the type and the density of the fabric is as paramount as the dress, although compatible with the dense shade, this wasn’t satisfactory. The flimsy polyester made the colour slightly transparent and reduced the effect for colour blocking, but we were off to a good start. In contrast, Topshop provided a blood orange tulip-pleat skirt. Pairing this with a moss-green jersey t-shirt and textured knitted cardigan saw a better impact, due to the thicker fabric. I felt both comfortable and creative, as the punchy cry for attention made the ensemble more noticeable, far more than what a navy or black skirt would have done in the same fabric. So far, so good.
The second combination however, made me eat my words. Fears of orange seeming vulgar and garish on formal attire were banished with two jackets; a thick, block-coloured suit jacket with shoulder-pads with black clothing and an orange and pink floral patterned blazer, worn with a orange faux calf-skin clutch. For the former, the density of the colour appealed to a bold attitude in formal wear, branching out from pastel shades and muted tones and it was actually quite empowering. Like a shot of caffeine, orange in a formal, powerfully-styled context ignited energy, bringing a quirky edge to a simple two piece. The latter made more of an decorative impact, in the orange shining through the dense floral pattern of pink flowers and highlighted with the matching clutch – take note on the brilliance of orange in accessories. It was undeniably feminine and surprisingly chic; perfect for evening drinks, the theatre or dinner in the sunshine.
Investigating the other, more luxurious side of the fashion coin found me predictable, but no less desirable results. Browsing through the luxury hand-bags and accessories in the designer segments of Harrods, orange is well and truly at home. Birkin assumptions aside, the stripes, trims and blocked tones of burnt, blood and tangerine orange that coveted the totes and scarves at Celine, Alexander McQueen and Prada all screamed with impact. But with such quality comes a certain attitude of regal elegance, an inevitable result on such sublime leather and silk. The sophistication once found in classic shades of caramel, camel and malt-brown, the former leading shades to infer expensive taste, have now been overtaken by orange, due to the repeated use and proper styling of the colour. Whilst money cannot buy style and orange may be difficult to wear, almost anything goes regarding accessories, so these bolder choices in often go down a treat, finished to perfection with the golden metal clasps on handbags and clashing-coloured tassels on scarves.
Pleasantly surprised, it would seem that orange is due more credit in it’s standing as a staple colour. Although it’s definitely appealing worn casually, the unexpected sense of empowerment in formal attire and accessories is something that should be nothing short of invest pieces in fashion. The contrast of a brighter shades styled in a formal cut is thoroughly refreshing and the attention seeking hues add a punch of colour to a tailored or modest outfit, defying a classically darker choice of palette. Be bold in your choices with orange; use it for patterns, accessories, colour-blocking and shoes. In turn, wear it with crystal earrings, black and white clothing and a strong pair of heels. Perhaps painted lips and an attitude to match, for the extra slick of luxury.