What are they on about?

8th December 2000 at 00:00
Colour me crazy, says David Newnham.

It would make a great quiz show question. "For pound;25, can you name the colour of your bedroom?" And don't give me "yellow" or "pink". It's names I'm after. I need the precise wording on the paint chart.

Fifty years ago, "off white" would almost certainly have won you the cash. Can you imagine anyone today calling a paint "off white"? Even "cream" sounds cheesy.

But ever since someone started selling White with a Hint of Honeysuckle, paint names have become crazier. Now your bedroom is as likely to be in Blonde Ambition as Magnolia.

Of course, I can see the point of attaching words to colours. With so many shades to choose from these days, we'd quickly flounder in a sea of numbers. The most widely used system of colorimetry - that adopted by the International Commission on Illumination - would invoke graphs and algebraic formulae to describe the precise red of a ripe apple and even the simpler Munsell system, devised by Albert H Munsell in 1913, would classify the same red as 10RP 410.

But pick up a paint chart and tell me honestly, isn't the tail wagging the dog? Hasn't the name on the can becomemore important than the colour of its contents? Crown will mix me a tin of Shakespeare Blue and Homebase will sell me a litre of Paparazzi Pink, regardless of the fact that the bard was beige and few press photographers are pink.

Like the fashion industry and the makers of shampoo, paint manufacturers hold a mirror to our aspirations."Never mind which colour you would like to see your kitchen," they say, "just buy the phrase that best describes how you would like to see yourself."

Dulux has gone so far as to divide its colours into three collections: African - all Tangian Tides and Ancient Earth; Oriental, with its Silken Trail and Bamboo Screen; and Urban, which contains greys called City Limit, Loft, Cafe Latte and Dot Com.

At the back of the catalogue, there's an entire section called KidZ - one comprising "six amazing themes for your child's room". The themes have names such as Really Cool, Action Adventure and Football Crazy, with colours ranging from Disco Yellow and Groovy Green to Princess Pink, Sports Car Red and Midfield Blue. It's enough to make you reach for a tin of F-Off White - that's white with a hint of attitude.

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