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My Blue Mood: Crushing on Indigo (Part 1)

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I’m in a blue mood. The collector gene has kicked in and this time, it’s all about indigo. Here, two handwoven throws, one from Mali and the other from Burkina Faso. Each is dyed with natural indigo. What’s up with that?

I’ve got a crush on indigo.

Like a few other crushes, it threatens to take over my life.

Colorwise, it’s that mysterious hue that hovers between blue and violet on the rainbow spectrum.  The one  you see when the sun sinks in northern New Mexico and the light fades from ultraviolet to inky blue.  In the Caribbean, it’s the cerulean slash of deep water beyond the turquoise shallows.

I haven’t always liked indigo, or even the color blue. This stems from the repulsive pleated skirts I wore for 10 years. They were part of my school uniform: navy blue, synthetic, scratchy and quite ugly. Even today I feel sorry for the senior girls I see ordering mocha Frappucinos at Starbucks. Same skirts, even if they’re a lot shorter.

But my recent crush originated with a simple cotton kimono.  It all began a couple of years ago, during Austin’s hottest summer ever—106 in the shade—when  I was trying to chill in a poolside room at the Hotel St. Cecilia.

It was the best possible place to be in a heat wave.  The room—which channeled a chic 1950’s ladies changing room (sans lockers), a place to have a cigarette and a martini after a swim—had luminous tile floors glazed deep swimming pool blue.  The power of suggestion was strong: Was the water I drank more refreshing because I poured it from a turquoise carafe into a turquoise glass?  I certainly think so.

 

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Best of all, though, was the flowing batik kimono hanging in the closet in place of the usual boring white spa robe.  Based on a Japanese yukata (a light cotton kimono worn in the summer), this languid garment had been dyed with real indigo in India.

The simple white flowers on that vibrant blue ground were enchanting, and the fabric was so soft that it draped gracefully.  Wearing that robe, it was impossible to look anything other than elegant, or so glimpses in mirror told me.

I still wear that yukata–in fact, I’m modeling it right now. The cotton just seems to get lighter and softer with every washing, and though the indigo has begun to fade, it makes me very happy in the morning—even at 6 AM when Nick is yelping for a walk in the our mosquito-infested woods.

Down the slippery slope: First the kimono, then other things.

 

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A sheer indigo linen smock hand-dyed in Maine, so dark it looks almost black in low light, discovered at Good in Boston. The smock is very good indeed, especially worn with the Lululemon capri leggings Serendipity advised me to buy.

 

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One of six solid indigo napkins, here used as a placemat, goes perfectly with my old Pier One batik and vintage Italian plates. The indigo has a slight greyish cast, often seen in naturally dyed textiles from Japan. The blue of the batik is probably synthetic, but still I adore the patterns—each of the six napkins I have is different.

 

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Internet shopping alert: The solid hand-stitched fringed throw came from Burkina Faso (via L’Aviva Home). Its intense color is created by repeated dipppings in the dye vat. And from Mali (and a One King’s Lane flash sale), a well-worn, handwoven shawl with stripes of varied thickness in three shades of indigo and cream. There is a small but active natural indigo industry in West Africa where the native Indigofera tinctoria plant from which the dye is created is known as gara.

Which brings me to the design world: Suddenly it seems that indigo is in—in a big way.

These items were shown in last Sunday’s New York Times Style section:

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Four luxurious pieces, hand-knit from cashmere yarn dyed with natural indigo, were created by Greg Chait, designer at the Elder Statesman, in collaboration with Tiina Laakkonen, a Finnish model-turned-stylist and boutique owner. The luscious blanket ($6,000) has sold out, but  you can still nab the Baja style pullover, “dip-dyed for a gradient effect that resembles the waters of the nearby Napeague Bay,” ($2,150).

For me, the layered inky colors are what make these pieces so appealing. (That and the plush cashmere, of course.)  Importantly, they are not exclusively black.  Tiina is quoted as saying, “I used to live in black clothes when I lived in New York, but they seem too hard in the both the light and the life out East [aka Long Island].”

I concur.  If you look in my closet, you’ll find lots of black (an easy holdover from my own years in New York), but lately, it seems harsh and unforgiving.  The varied blues of indigo are chic, but much more flattering.

Tiina, by the way, has some exquisite Marimekko plates that appear to have been brushed with indigo watercolor.  I love the look (only $45 each!) but wonder if all that beautiful blue would suppress my appetite.  (Does anyone really love purplish blue potatoes?)

It’s short hop from fashion to interior décor.

 

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The September House Beautiful is the annual Color issue and guess what? There’s a whole page of nifty indigo accessories, especially the plush indigo denim couch, as well three rooms by Ralph Lauren designers, including one with delicious indigo walls created by layering different shades of blue paint and lightly brushing each one over the others. Part of the technique is letting the paint drip down the wall.

Last year, the magazine picked Glidden’s Indigo Night as one of “11 Paint Colors that will be Hot Next.”  Designer  Barbara Richardson summarized the hue’s appeal: “We’re all trying to switch off and be quiet. This midnight blue, edging toward purple, is soothing, relaxing, and so enveloping that you can get lost in it. Perfect for those times when you want to escape.”

Coming next: Down the rabbit hole into the world of plant-based dyes; why indigo is having “a moment” right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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