Lavender is a flattering colour to wear bright without drowning you out, softly illuminating next to the face. So flattering is it, in fact, that somewhere along the way it became a uniform for “women of a certain age”. When poet Jenny Joseph wrote “when I am an old woman I shall wear purple”, I’m guessing that she was referring to lavender.
The Queen wears shades of lavender, as did the late Queen Mother. There are lavender rinses, lavender hats and frock-coats for mothers and grandmothers of the bride; there is even a film, Ladies in Lavender, in which Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith play spinster sisters competing for a younger man. Lavender is a granny's colour. At any age perhaps especially if you are of granny age that's an association you might prefer to avoid.
And so lavender fell out of vogue and designers played with brighter, bolder colours. But after last year's catwalk favourite canary yellow, if you please, which looks good on approximately one per cent of the population it seems that even the fashion vanguard is keen to try a more wearable shade. If, as Coco Chanel once said, "the best colour in the world is the one that looks good on you", then perhaps it's time we gave lavender a second chance.
Ultra Violet, Pantone’s colour of the year in 2018, might have planted the seed but the shade was too close to a chocolate wrapper to appeal much. The real shift began in January, at the Valentino haute couture show in Paris. That show was a masterclass in colour, pairing ochre with ice blue and sugar pink, emerald with chocolate and blush, and orange with lilac and lavender. It was that lavender, worn next to the face, that stood out.
A month on, New York Fashion Week has been punctuated with lavender, worn not as an accent colour but top to toe, or with mauve, lilac or violet. Tom Ford showed deep lavender satin trousers and matching blouse under a pink faux-fur coat; Tory Burch layered a Hidcote lavender coat over a paler French lavender blouse. At Rachel Comey, a steely lavender jacket was paired with trousers the colour of undyed linen and tobacco suede boots. On the front row, too, lavender is everywhere.
There are good lavenders and bad: the good kind have enough grey to look expensive, but not so much that they look dusty or washed out, and enough purple to look fresh but not royal. Without the grey, you have lilac, not lavender, and a bit more pink makes mauve.
The trend has started to percolate into the high street and once you begin to notice it, you'll see it everywhere. As I write, I'm wearing a chunky organic wool lavender rollneck by London-based brand Ninety Percent and sitting back to back with The Daily Telegraph's head of fashion Lisa Armstrong in a fine-knit lavender jumper by Alberta Ferretti (hers is from a past season always ahead of the curve, that one). I've paired mine with black jeans and a navy jacket, Lisa with navy pinstripe trousers the grey undertones mean that lavender works with dark neutrals.
I’ve never quite got on board with pale pink it’s too little-girl for me, especially with blonde hair and ditto lilac. But pale lavender (even mauve), with that dash of grey, is far less saccharine a pastel for grown-ups.
Come spring, lavender will look lovely mixed in with a more summery palette too pale yellow (if you bought any last year), white, this season’s beige shades. It will work with neutral khaki, perennial florals, or leopard print... it’s so versatile, I don’t know why we didn’t cotton on sooner.
This summer, you can expect the shade to dominate occasionwear it’s perfect for race days, weddings et al: see Zimmermann’s wafty dress in the palest lavender for inspiration.
And if you find that you match the grandmother of the bride well, it was her turf first.
The Daily Telegraph