Ian’s class on Colour
Ian’s class on colour reminded me how my nursery used colour as punishment.
Back in 2000, I was a three old living in Austria. Two older sisters, two parents, two guinea pigs, one Italian nursery.
The Asilo Italiano a Vienna (Italian Nursery in Vienna), was, even by today’s standards, what you could describe as a progressive place for infants and children. It was a small school run by Monstessori-type colleagues who wore baggy, floral-patterned trousers, before Marc had even made them iconic. We’d sit in a circle listening to Paolo, one of our teachers with shoulder-length hair, play Imagine on the guitar, we would eat home-cooked veggie-heavy meals, we’d learn interpretive dance. When we went out to parks, the teachers would encourage us little ones to defecate on the grass when we needed to go, so that we could fertilise the earth.
Yet, in the midst of this hippie-goodness, the Asilo was sadly, a complete contradiction. Yes, everyone danced in a circle happily, when everyone was behaved; however, step out of line and the young teachers had devised a punishment as nuanced as it was cruel – a subtle but sharp whip for your sense of self. It’s important at this point in my story to point out that all the boys were given a baby-blue apron and I was, like all the other girls, given a pale pink one. When you misbehaved, you would be forced to wear the opposite-colour apron for the rest of the day and witness how your identity – how you and others perceive you – would be turned on its head. In particular, I will never forget one of my classmates, Laura la Birichina (Laura the Mischevious) who would regularly wear a blue apron. Needless to say, we would all, myself included, gang up on her. She was like those ants without antennae who get devoured by their friends and family – ‘Steve, mate, please don’t eat me, it’s me, Louis!’. Shut up Louis you freak – why aren’t you like the rest of us?
I wore the blue apron once and I will never forget it. The teacher tapped me on my shoulder and brought me into a little room to change. When I stepped out, the everyone was dead silent and all my were classmates staring at me with contempt and pleasure – nothing like seeing one of your own go down.
Needless to say, this act of pure sadism could not have been possible without social prescriptions on colour. Pink is for girls. Blue is for boys, it just seems so inevitable. As Ian pointed out, colour is emotion, state, action. Colour dictates, almost instantly, a visceral reaction. What can that teach us about branding and advertising? Essentially almost everything. Orange is playful and cheap – think EasyJet, Sainsbury’s. Purple is regal and expensive – NatWest, The Crown. Green is clean – I can’t even begin to list all the ‘clean energy companies’ or ‘green initiatives’ that use this colour. Pink – flirty and girly – Barbie’s been everywhere these months.
Blue? For most, a symbol of authority, masculinity, safety. For me? Just the reminder of my first (of many) social demises.