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International Klein Blue: Ultramarine Rules the Runway
In our designer campaign this past spring, we payed tribute to Yves Klein, a ground-breaking avant-garde artist of the ’50s and ’60s. Klein is perhaps most famous for developing and patenting his own signature shade of blue known as International Klein Blue, or IKB. (To learn about Yves Klein and his love of blue, be sure to read our article “Into the Blue: A Salute to Yves Klein.”) Since its creation in 1962, this vivid ultramarine hue has had a significant and lasting impact on contemporary art as well as the fashion world. In fact, this year, IKB was a without a doubt one the standout shades that dominated the catwalk during the spring and fall seasons. Interested in seeing how the most famous names in fashion got creative with this color? Here’s a quick rundown of the different ways IKB ruled the runway in 2019.
Early Indications and Art Inspirations
We started to see early indications of the coming craze for Klein and his blue hue in Céline's Spring 2017 Ready-to-Wear collection. Designer Phoebe Philo sent models sashaying down the runway in bright white dresses that featured paintings from Klein's Anthropometry series transposed on the front.
A direct reference to Klein's work, these dresses used the artist's representation of the female form to highlight the beauty of women's bodies. Céline's collection also featured frocks dip-dyed in IKB. A precursor of tie-dye's popularity this year? Perhaps!
Phoebe Philo wasn't alone in taking inspiration from Klein's artwork in order to interpret the ultramarine hue. John Galliano referenced the artist's love of covering objects with his signature shade in the designer's Spring 2019 Couture collection for Maison Margiela.
The collection's clothing and its backdrop were a rich riot of color, graffiti, and texture. However, even against this chaotic background, the main motif of a poodle completely covered in IKB distinctly stood out, proof of the visual power of Klein's boundless blue.
Designers even drew on the properties of wet paint as they celebrated the famous French artist and his custom-made color on the catwalk. At Givenchy's Spring 2019 Couture collection, we spied model Selena Forrest walking with one arm covered by a striking full-sleeve glove made of bright blue latex.
The slick and shiny finish made it appear as though her arm had been dipped in a freshly opened can of Klein's paint. A similar illusion appeared in Dries Van Noten's Spring 2019 Menswear collection, where shorts and boiler suits came in glistening materials that made it look like they, too, might have been painted blue.
Deep Blue Sea
The wet sheen on some of the fabrics Dries Van Noten used in his Spring 2019 Menswear collection may have also inspired the designer when picking his prints. Using mid-century patterns from Danish interior designer Verner Panton, Van Noten played around with IKB in various intensities to create graduated waves of blue. It was a fitting choice for celebrating Klein's signature shade as the sea was one of the boundless, abstract, and dimensionless wonders of the world the artist believed could only be represented by blue.
Van Noten wasn't the only one picking up on the ocean vibes of this color. In Jean Paul Gaultier's Spring 2019 Couture collection, model Manon Leloup came down the catwalk draped in a sheer, accordion-pleated ultramarine fabric that rippled and waved like the surface of the sea as she walked. If Gaultier's oceanic inspiration wasn't clear enough from this look, a little later, a gown made of multiple tiers of pale blue tulle trailing into a floor-sweeping train appeared. What did Gaultier cleverly call this divine dress? A Seastar Is Born.
Texture: Top to Toe or in Touches
The craze over IKB inspired many designers to find different ways of taking the hue from head to toe. In addition to patterns like those seen at Dries Van Noten, one of the ways they brought blue from shoulder to shoe was by incorporating different textures. An exceptional example of a top-to-toe ultramarine ensemble came from Givenchy's Spring 2019 Couture collection, where designer Clare Waight Keller combined a structured and smooth woven jacket with a peplum bodice made of Swiss guipure that then flowed into a sheer lace skirt. Even though the ensemble was all one color, these contrasting textures completely captivated the eye and the imagination.
When not taken from head to toe, designers continued to combine Klein's favorite color with texture in touches. Bright blue faux fur covered the hats, wraps, shoes, and bags that came down the catwalk at Kenzo's Fall 2019 Ready-To-Wear runway show, while sleek and chic IKB latex inserts elevated the tailoring of Christopher Kane's Fall 2019 Ready-To-Wear line. This saturated shade of blue on materials that would attract attention even on their own brought major visual punch to the pieces of both collections.
With IKB being such a bold shade, it's surprising that the most popular color designers' chose to pair it with was one that's equally as eye-catching: red! Armani Privé's Spring 2019 Couture collection wowed with this striking color combo on its Art Deco-inspired designs that featured flashy sequins, ruffles, fringe, and beaded flapper hats. These Jazz Age looks left no doubt as to the dynamism of these two hues. Humberto Leon and Carol Lim took a slightly more subtle approach to teaming the tones together in Kenzo's Fall 2019 Menswear collection. Here, smidgens of scarlet broke up electric blue in graphic prints and on shoelaces. These hints were all it took to make a powerful and impressive impact, rivaling that of even the most classic color combo, black and white!