The Steampunk Color Palette: Analine and the “Mauve Decade”
If you are a Steampunk fan, you have probably seen a meme that looks something like this:
Personally, this has nothing to do with how I fell in love with this awesome sci-fi genre, and in truth the steam era was a lot more colorful than people give it credit for. The discovery of new dyes and pigments, coupled with the rise of ready-made clothing through mechanization of the processes of garment-making, lead to an explosion of color in fashion for both sexes in the second half of the 19th century.
Until the mid-1800’s, the fashion industry was limited by the availability of natural dyes. Crushed plants and animals provided the only way to add color to clothing, and these resources were limited and often very costly. Purples were especially hard to come by, and until 1856 you could only make it by using a few types of mollusks. Then, amateur chemist William Perkin changed all that.
He didn’t have fashion on his mind when he started his experiments with quinine, but the accidental discovery of a synthetic pigment he called “mauvine” far outstripped his greatest hopes for his original work. Within a few years, this purple pigment (derived from a volatile compound “analine”) could be seen draped over Victorian England’s middle class after Queen Victoria popularized the hue. The 1890’s are sometimes referred to as “the mauve decade” because of how prevalent this color had become.
But, the story is so much bigger than dresses (which is saying a lot considering they were some really BIG dresses). When the synthetic dye craze exploded, Germany was one of the only countries that were really equipped to handle this new chemical industry. By the onset of the first World War, Germany was responsible for supplying as much as 90% of the American market’s synthetic dyes. At the turn of the 19th century, France was seen as the seat of fashion, so it is no surprise that these fashion houses issued the first color cards to act as guides for dying thread to match their goods and make production faster and more consistent.
When I read about all of this I got inspired to make some of my artwork reflect these innovations by exploring a single hue such as Analine purple. What do you think?
For a limited time this little beauty will be up on my Etsy shop, but I am currently talking to a gallery that is interested in displaying some of my small pieces. If you think you might like to have this as your very own, act fast!