How to Wear Color This Fall? Don’t

WHITE AND BLACK is a pretty loaded palette. Good and evil, birth and death, virginity and “experience” are just a few of the weighty dichotomies this duo represents. Ask a creative conspiracy theorist and he might tell you monochrome patterns are secret symbols of the Illuminati.

I am not in the Illuminati (as far as you know) but my décor and my wardrobe are predominantly black and white. For me, the opposing shades conjure alternate realities. Salvador Dalí placed chess boards in his uncanny paintings. Lewis Carroll’s Alice is often depicted as landing on a black-and-white floor after falling down the rabbit hole. During the dark days of lockdown, I invested in a Wonderland-worthy checked rug for my foyer as a form of surreal escape.

If new carpeting is not in your future, you might find William Klein’s 1966 film “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?”—an absurdist fashion satire filled with black-and-white style—equally transporting. In one of my favorite scenes, American model Peggy Moffitt cameos as an unapologetically exasperated mannequin. In a group of lookalikes, Ms. Moffitt (seen at far left in the above photo) stands out thanks to her entrancing, densely lined eyes—two supernovas being swallowed by black holes. “She brought a physicality to modeling,” said Cameron Silver, the founder of Los Angeles vintage store Decades, who worked with Ms. Moffitt on a 2015 retrospective of the work of provocative Los Angeles designer Rudi Gernreich, for whom Ms. Moffitt served as muse. “She was one of the first non-Grace Kelly types to break through.” The striped look she dons here echoes the Gernreich designs she modeled (and reportedly still wears) in real life.


Ms. Moffitt helped define the mod, op-art-infused aesthetic of the Youthquake era. And today, the graphic black-and-white prints and stark color-blocking in which she often posed have resurged, populating the collections of Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Victor Glemaud and Valentino, to name a few. Celebrities, too, have embraced chiaroscuro: Just this month, Emma Corrin (Princess Diana in “The Crown”) appeared on the cover of W magazine in Prada’s trippy take, and Marion Cotillard confidently walked the red carpet in striated Chanel at a screening of her new film “Annette.” Suggesting that the look has gone mainstream, social media platform Pinterest reports that, between July 15 and Aug. 15, searches for “black and white outfit ideas” shot up 680% from the same period last year.

For Wes Gordon, creative director of Carolina Herrera, the contrasting polka-dots and zebra prints in his pre-fall and fall collections connote a Youthquake-era optimism—something he found appealing while designing during the “bleak” lockdown. His 1960s inspirations, he said, represented a new generation announcing “its presence with graphic, bold clothes that were underlined, circled and marked with an exclamation point.” He hoped to reflect a similar pivot: “Celebrating change really spoke to me.”


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