CuHAs03 – copper hydrogen arsenate is the chemical composition of Scheele’s Green. A yellowy vivid emerald green. Green is a colour awash with controversy, it is manmade yet symbolises the ‘natural’, it is artificial and real, summer and winter, life and death, honour and envy, nature and technology.
Left: Craig Green S/S 19, To Vintage computer screen, Right: Franz-Xaver Winterhalter’s, 1855 portrait of Queen Victoria, Behind: Scheele’s Green was a toxic green invented in 1775 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele and by the end of the 19th century had replaced most older pigments of green.
It reminds me of Robin Williams’s Flubber in the 1997 film ‘Flubber’ and HARIBO’s Terrific Turtles. This is a slimy kind of green, the complete opposite of ‘natural’. Queen Victoria wore it in Franz- Xaver Winterhalter’s 1855 portrait of her. And this month, Erykah Badu hosted ‘A Sound of Green’, on NTS radio, a show dedicated to the colour green and the late jazz trumpeter, Roy Hargrove’s, ‘Greens at the Chicken Shack’. In the millennium, Badu sang, “my eyes are green ‘cause I eat a lot of vegetables it don’t have nothing to do with your new friend.” Nature and envy.
Balenciaga, Issey Miyake and Craig Green all incorporated shades of green that closely resemble Scheele’s Green into their Spring Summer 19 collections. At Balenciaga, models walked down a digital tunnel, created by the artist Jon Rafman, where green radiated and flashed through a black screen. They wore mustard green pointed heels, some with thick layers of buckled straps, a neon green wrap corset and a dark teal green box cut mini dress, which had mutant-esque exaggerated shoulders. Craig Green’s technicolor sports suits, were lined and trimmed with an array of washed out and darkened greens, reminiscent of electrical circuit boards that boxed off and exaggerated silhouettes. And, Issey Miyake showed malleable woven pleats and painted brush strokes on cotton, in more a ‘natural’ teal green that flowed from and was moulded by the model’s bodies. In popular culture, this September Kim Kardashian stepped out of her neon green Lamborghini with matching green coloured hair. And, SZA’s performance at the Grammy’s was held in front of a washed out acid green, that floated and morphed across a trippy digital screen. Her background singers all wore matching green hoodies and a couple months later, she also dyed her hair neon green.
“Seamstresses don’t like green. But I just don’t think it’s pretty. It isn’t out of superstition. I am not superstitious at all.” Madame Dominique, the Premiere Main of the draping studio of Chanel said in the 2005 documentary, ‘Signs Chanel’. Green has always been one of the most contested colours in fashion, yet, it looks like it’s back. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, women’s wardrobes were flooded with the newly produced green of Scheele and other colour manufacturers, who all used large amounts of arsenic in their dye’s. In her book, ‘Fashion Victims’, Alison Mathews David details the first recorded death by green arsenic poisoning. In 1861, an artificial flower maker called Matilda Scheurer, died of arsenic poisoning, she began vomiting green liquid, the whites of her eyes turned green, and everything she saw was green. Yet, people continued to long for the colour green. You can see it everywhere in the paintings, decorations, and clothing of the period. It is even rumoured that Napoleon died from green arsenic poisoning due to his elaborate green wallpaper – covered in none other than the purest of Scheele’s Green. And it isn’t just fashion that has a murky history with this colour, in the Paris theatre wearing green on stage is said to bring extreme bad luck. This is due to the death of the playwright, Molière, who died on stage at the royal performance in 1673, wearing a green costume.
Today, green’s deathly reputation has subsided, yet, there is still something uneasy about the colour. When fashion brands declare themselves to be ‘green’, what do they really mean? Usually, nothing. A clever ploy to gloss over their very real environmental impact with a green slogan and label – as if green is the purest and most natural colour on earth. On the other hand, green is also embedded in our technology. Think of the black screens of early computers flashing with neon green lettering, or anything cyberpunk for that matter. Can you really trust a colour that stands for so much and so little? But maybe green is making a come back for this very reason, it could just be the perfect colour of our age.
Words, Ella Sweeney