By  on November 15, 2005

NEW YORK — In 1935, Pablo Picasso said, "Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions." And his remark is still apt, as Derek Lam's fall 2006 collection, the latest exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt and a new how-to book illustrate.

Lam Shows His Colors
Derek Lam may be known for his use of a mostly neutral palette, but for fall 2006, the designer is feeling colorful. "I really want to create a collection with a lot of energy," Lam says, as he sits in his Meatpacking District studio next to a large inspiration board. "I'm tired of ladylike, soft and elegant clothes. I'm ready to go forward and create something with colors that are not really used in fashion — unpopular colors. It's really important to me that this collection absolutely exudes energy, specifically the energy of New York."

And speaking of New York, one of his latest inspirations is the late nights he spent at clubs during the late Eighties and early Nineties, while he attended Parsons. "Some people would come from black-tie events and mix into a crowd where others wore almost costumey looks, many of which featured garish tones," he recalls, adding that the bold mixes of colors were especially bright under the glaring strobe lights. "But it was all very glamorous."

Lam's interest in color has also been fueled by two books. One is "Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail," by Lucy Johnston, in which one chapter looks at how bright colors — especially cobalt blues and bright purples — once created controversy in England. "Not everyone approved of these striking shades, and the French historian Hippolyte Taine found women's dress 'loud and overcharged with ornament' when he visited England in the 1860s," Johnston wrote. "He thought the colors were 'outrageously crude ... each swearing at the others' and cited 'violet dresses, of a really ferocious violet,' 'purple or poppy-red silks, grass-green dresses' and 'azure blue scarves' as particularly offensive to the eye."

Lam laughs when reading this excerpt, saying he finds it particularly amusing. "I love the idea that color was viewed as something that was vulgar and shocking," he says. Another influence has been "Graffiti Brasil," an unabashedly hip and au courant book that examines graffiti art throughout the South American country.

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