The Best Colors Named After People
Worried about your legacy? Curious how you’ll go down in history? Forget about chasing money or power. Instead, you might consider adding your name to the ranks of chroma celebs. We played a round of “How did that color get its name?” and found a cast of characters that made us stop and stare. From bubblegum battleships to Yves Saint Laurent’s design inspo and the Roosevelt who pushed the limits of the unprintable, these creatives took a seriously nontraditional path to get into the history books. Keep an eye out for their namesake colors in the wild. And, hey, maybe you’ll have one named for you one day, too.
Artist and Morocco-based expat Jacques Majorelle sacrificed any chance of being remembered for his watercolors when he painted his new Cubist villa to resemble a deepwater electric eel. The bold blue entranced and enraptured many a visitor to Marrakech. One of its most well-known devotees was the designer Yves Saint Laurent, who purchased the Majorelle property in 1980. The signature vibrant blue began to make bold, graphic appearances in YSL designs – a potentially expensive move, as Majorelle patented the color before he died. A few manufacturers have developed a close-to-perfect alternative for those hankering to paint their patio, or you can buy your own tiny can of real Majorelle blue in the Jardin Majorelle gift shop. Be warned: It likely won’t meet the liquid restrictions for your carry-on.
Mountbatten pink made its dusky rose debut during World War II, when Lord Louis Mountbatten premiered the paint job on the hulls of the Royal British Navy. Perhaps hoping to make a splash with the same color camouflage philosophy that had launched the Dazzle ships of WWI, Mountbatten believed that the pink could make his Navy disappear at the hours of dawn and dusk. He may have been right. But the blush was hardly a needle in a haystack at midday. The invisible sub program may have been scrapped but God help me, I don’t think I can unsee it.
Paolo Veronese moved to Venice in the early 1550s. As one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance, he might have sewn up a legacy as Venice’s greatest prodigy if that city, with its filmy light and vibrant colors, hadn’t attracted so many creatives warring for supremacy. Veronese created a family enterprise, a studio workshop assisted by his brother and sons, which produced portraits of Venice’s opulent feasts and ceremonies masquerading as biblical storylines. Since Veronese Green and its sibling emerald tones are copper-based, many of his colors have faded to brown, cloaking the original hues in mystery. But if you stop by his former home in Venice, you might notice that the current downstairs tenants honor the building’s former inhabitant with an awning in his namesake green.
That bubblegum blaze from your corner Instagram bait pop-up experience actually got its start in a naval correctional facility in rainy Seattle. After catching wind of a psychology study that claimed the color could weaken anyone who looked at it, two prison officials, Gene Baker and Ron Miller, painted one of the cells the color of Kendall Jenner’s bedroom to watch its effect on the incarcerated. The results have been…irreplicable in scientific studies. But that didn’t stop tales of the enervating power of pink from spreading. Soon, it graced the walls of psychiatrists’ offices, dentists’ waiting rooms, and overnight cells for the intoxicated. So next time you snap a selfie against the pink backdrop of your local Museum of Marshmallows, think of Baker and Miller. Are you putting yourself in a pop-up prison of your own making?
William Payne hit upon the perfect meta color for himself. The drawing master innovated by splitting paintbrush hairs to create foliage, blended his paintings with bread, and created this neutral tint that some even grayer member of his circle found ahead of the curve. Many of his landscapes were, perhaps unsurprisingly, of slate quarries. In the damning-by-faint-praise words of a 1922 biography: “That Payne was a great artist can hardly be pretended…In the treatment of sunlight he was perhaps rather more successful than most of the artists with whom he had at first to compete.” To be fair to his legacy and memory, that same biography did refer to Payne gray as “useful.” As a great creative once said, some are born gray, and some achieve grayness.
Like a bolt out of the…well you know, when the 17-year-old Alice Roosevelt swept into her dad Teddy Roosevelt’s White House, she created the modern paparazzi. From her pants and her Dorothy Parker–esque one-liners (“If you can’t say something good about someone…sit right here by me”) to the snake she toted around in her purse, press coverage of the first daughter was a hot topic for sassy women of all ages. And also for men of all ages who like to criticize sassy women of all ages. Whether the icy-cold-shoulder blue originated with Roosevelt’s signature wardrobe or her eye color, it quickly became a celebrity brand and a favorite for women’s dresses. In 2001, Alice Blue was trademarked by a U.K. company trying to ruin everyone’s fun. But karma eventually came calling, and they accidentally trademarked the wrong color.
More about Emily Ludolph
Emily Ludolph is a director at West Wing Writers. She has published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Artsy, Airmail, Eye on Design, JSTOR Daily, Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer.