Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A review by Sandy and Pierre Pettinger

My sincere thanks to Sandy and Pierre for writing this review.

There is a wealth of sources for historical clothing and costume research. The variations in corsets, sleeves, skirts and jackets since the 16th century can be traced nearly to the year. Fashion reviews from the period are plentiful and not overly difficult to interpret.

But what do you make of a reference to an Abraham skirt with fauvre ribbon embellishments? Would you realize the skirt was a dingy yellow and the ribbons were deep yellow? Unlikely; and most sources would not be able to enlighten you. By dint of extensive research and library searches, you could probably find out, but the road would be difficult.

Elephant’s Breath & London Smoke helps address this difficulty. Historic costume researcher and pattern designer Deb Salisbury has collated references from hundreds of sources to produce this fascinating palette of colour names from the last 400 years.

She begins with the dictionary. Over 200 pages of color names and descriptions from Aaz (a red dye from India) to Zulu pink (a pale strawberry tinge). Dictionaries, of course, aren’t meant to be read straight through. But dipping into the entries a bit at a time and finding those gems of shade, pigment and language is a delight.

Deb also includes sections with commentary from various periods addressing colour and fashion, historical color names ( covering cloths, dyeing, make-up and even colours of horses and livery), colour symbolism and harmony of colour. It also touches on the conventions of mourning colors. These sections are wonderful to read. The words of the period are essential to understanding and appreciation of the fashions.

This book is a delight and an essential addition to any costume library.

And what are Elephant’s Breath and London Smoke? Well what would be the fun if we told you?

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