• The defining global authority for all things colour-related chose Viva Magenta (Pantone 18-1750) as its shade for the year, saying it “acknowledges our gravitational pull towards natural colours as movements swell around climate change, sustainability, and land protection”.
  • Viva Magenta is described by Pantone as a “nuanced crimson red tone” that has its origins in the cochineal beetle, a tiny cactus-eating insect that was once found only in Mexico and Chile and was prized for the rich red pigment it produced.
  • Spanish colonialists realised the commercial potential of the colour yielded by these bugs, kermes vermilio (which gave rise to the term crimson), and monopolised its trade between the 16th and 18th Centuries.
  • Cochineal red became a sign of privilege and was coveted by emperors, cardinals of the Catholic Church and even high-ranking officers (the iconic redcoats of the British military were dyed using this).
  • To break this commodity stronghold, the British tried to “cultivate” their own cochineal farms. One such attempt came from a Scotsman, James Anderson, who ran his botanical garden in Madras from 1778 to 1792, at Nungambakkam (the place has now been reduced to rubble).
  • He identified insects similar to the cochineal in Chennai and tried to replicate the Spanish success in his Saidapetnopalry. Unfortunately, his efforts failed and the nopalry was ravaged by a severe cyclone that hit Madras in December 1807.
  • Eventually, the development of synthetic dyes diminished the use of natural colouring agents but varying hues of red derived from natural sources remain unparalleled in their resplendence.

Traditional tints

  • The colour red has always been held in high esteem by many cultures. Extracting the pigment from nature, however, was a challenging task.
  • A widely used substance was lac. In Tamil Nadu, lac red is popularly known as arakku, the primary choice of colour for muhurtam bridal saris.
  • Arakku red in a kanjivaram silk is arrived by a dual tone of arakku red or maroon in warp, and pink or kanchana brown on the weft.
  • French designer Jean-Philippe Lenclos says in his book, Géographie de la Couleur (The Geography of Colour), that the choice of colour reflects emotional expression and the integration of material culture and spiritual culture.
  • And that fits perfectly with Tamil tradition for names of colours reflect everyday life. Look at the range of terms used by weavers for red alone: kempu (rubies), milagaipazham (red chillies), kumkumam (vermilion), thakkali (tomato), semmann (red of the earth).

Colour choice

  • Given the sheer diversity of the textile industry, and its largely unorganised nature, sari weavers and sellers follow their own ways to generate colours that can seldom be replicated.
  • Karthik Monju Selvan, director, E. Selvan Textiles Private Ltd. and Drapery Silks in Arani, says dyeing colours are picked based on trending patterns and designs as well as the season.
  • Red remains a quintessential shade in most wardrobes of south Indian women, and apart from marriages, it features prominently in certain religions and sects. According to Mr. Selvan, adopting the Pantone system could benefit the industry but the main hurdle is money.
  • Each Pantone shade card costs ₹75,000 and that is a huge investment for every dyeing unit. “It could be a game-changer for the entire ecosystem and industry. Most of the colours while designing a sari are done by simulations on the computer,” he says.
  • “If we need to replicate the colours for dyeing, Pantone gives an accurate split of the shades in red, green and blue (RGB).”
  • Pantone’s annual trendsetting concept, which began in 2000, is influential across international design, paint and textile industries.
  • Past picks have included hues such as Veri Peri, Illuminating Yellow, Ultimate Grey, Classic Blue and Living Coral. If Tamil Nadu’s weavers warm up to this system, would our very own Arakku or MilagaiPazham turn into global trendsetters? Only time will tell.
  • Chennai likely to emit 232 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2040, say researchers at IIT-Madras


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