What is the new black?

As the world becomes more virtual, the virtual becomes more fungible. It’s sort of a dance. Take color. Once it was a fragile and passing attribute of some real object. We may speak of red roses, but what do we mean? So many reds, so many roses. Nevertheless, in times past, it sufficed to say that roses are red. Sure, a poet may speak of the crackling fire of a rose, but where does that get you quantitatively speaking? Better to say Pantone 17-1463 TCX (a.k.a. #2E492F, the Pantone 2012 Color of the Year). Now that’s a color you can calculate with. That color has a house, a bank account, and a swimming pool. That color smokes a pipe and drives a nicer car than you.

My favorite example of color name transfer is teal. The word teal comes from a duck, the Eurasian or Common Teal (Anas crecca). Now of course, no two ducks have the same color eye stripe (whence the eponymous color). But the color came along and appropriated the name to #367588, which, we may suppose, no duck has ever precisely matched. I like to imagine the color conversing with the duck. Color: “Dude, you’re not teal. I’m teal. You’re some kind of crappy ersatz teal.” Duck (reddening): “Quack!”

Bertrand Russell once said that “everything is vague to a degree you do not realize until you have tried to make it precise.” At least I’m pretty sure that’s what he said. Having gone to the trouble of specifying and objectifying color, what now may we do? We can mine it, manufacture it, trade it, and predict it.

We can send color expeditions to the Amazon to mine and extract colors from the living scene. Not colored things. Not artifacts and objects, but the quantified and distilled color itself, pinned like a butterfly to a specimen case. Color predictions in fashion takes this one step farther. If I’m about to make a big investment in a line of aubergine evening wear, I might want to buy some color futures as a hedge. People are already doing this sort of thing with weather futures, so why not? The sky may look blue, but who knows what it is really?

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