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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Black is beautiful

Black will never go out of style, but you have to earn your stripes to wear it well.
The Straits Times - August 31, 2012
By: Ong Soh Chin
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Black is beautiful Actress Sarah Jessica Parker wears Chanel\\\'s iconic Little Black Jacket like a fantasy turban in the fashion house\\\'s new tome. -- PHOTO: CHANEL

Yesterday, a bunch of people togged up in white to experience Diner en Blanc, a mass dining event where participants carried their own cutlery and furniture and decamped to a mystery location to enjoy a meal.

I didn't go for several reasons, one of which was that I would have had to dress up in what is probably my least favourite colour.

White is great if you're a bride. Otherwise, to me, it has always represented impracticality and a big bother. Wearing white means being extra careful about what kind of underwear you have on and where you sit. It means constantly being aware that your surroundings could prove a hazard to the pristine status of your outfit.

In short, wearing white means never being relaxed in your own skin.

The idea of a Diner en Noir, on the other hand, is a whole lot more palatable to me. Black is the complete opposite of white in every way - it is practical and hardy, yet immeasurably elegant, without trying too hard.

Could Johnny Cash have been anything but the Man In Black? Could Audrey Hepburn have worn anything else but that black Givenchy gown in Breakfast At Tiffany's?

When Coco Chanel unveiled her little black dress in the 1920s, she created a quiet revolution, transforming a colour that had previously been regarded as one of mourning into a celebration of eternal style.

By shrinking the colour palette, she expanded opportunities for women, magically giving them an instant formula for effortless chic so they could be free to spend time on other pursuits - like running a corporation, managing a family or ruling the world.

American Vogue called it "Chanel's Ford", referring to its accessibility and affordability. It was a great leveller, capable of being worn by women of all social classes and financial backgrounds. The magazine also predicted that it would become "a sort of uniform for all women of taste".

In theory, that has come true. "LBD" is now a universally accepted acronym.

In reality, however, black is not a colour that every woman can wear comfortably. A fashion editor friend laments constantly that it has become a lazy shorthand for wannabes who think donning a black dress is all it takes to be stylish.

The truth is, a woman has to earn her stripes before she can wear black with confidence. And I believe every stylish woman has her own particular journey.

In my younger days, I lived by the mantra that life was too short to wear black. Why be so sombre when there was a whole palette of hues to experiment with?

The truth, I now realise, is that I was too immature then. I was not worthy, and I felt it whenever I pulled on a black dress. It wore me and, as a result, it wore me down. Black can bring out the right woman's alluring mystery. But it can also leach the light out of the wrong woman, making her appear small, washed out and insignificant.

Then, one day, suddenly and inexplicably, I felt this inexorable need to get out of the Pantone pantomime. I reached for black - and I have never looked back.

Somewhere down the line, I must have turned a psychical corner, paid my dues and earned my black credentials.

But I still have those discombobulating days when I feel undeserving of black - when I feel insubstantial and lightweight. For those days, I can now cheat a little and turn to Chanel's delicious new fragrance, Coco Noir.

While the name implies maturity and intensity by conjuring up its fragrance namesake, Coco, it is actually - surprisingly - lighter than Coco. Chanel's nose Jacques Polge describes it as a "luminous Oriental".

Similarly, Guerlain's delightful new scent La Petite Robe Noire is an unexpected revelation. It is an effervescent and youthful distillation of the spirit of the little black dress.

Coming from one of the oldest fragrance houses in France, known for its oeuvre of magnificent classics, the scent, one assumes, will be heady and powerful. Instead, it is fresh, irresistibly flirtatious and makes one appreciate black in a completely different way.

Even black, you see, comes in shades and it is charmingly adaptable in the right hands.

The latest photography project by Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld bears this out by feting black, not in the form of the little black dress, but the fashion house's other perennial.

The Little Black Jacket - available from next month at bookstores worldwide - is a handsome tome of 113images, featuring celebrities interpreting Chanel's other classic in their own individual ways. Sarah Jessica Parker wears it cheekily like a fantasy turban, Alexa Chung wears it with denim cut-offs and insouciance and Linda Evangelista accents hers with a cigarette and lots of attitude.

Black, like the world's most memorable women, is, ultimately, unfathomable. And that is the reason it will never go out of style.

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