And here I was thinking it was a pretension

Vignelli Anthropologists love to find documents that illuminate a culture.  Here’s a passage I just found in Debbie Millman’s How To Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

In the last interview of the book, Debbie interviews Massimo Vignelli (that’s him to the right) and bang, she uncovers a lovely little cultural account that is illuminating, poetic, funny and, for all I know, true.  In any case, it takes us straight into the culture, with a brilliant designer, in this case, as our tour guide. 

Debbie asks,

Why do you think so many people wear black in New York City?

Massimo replies:

Because of the image.

Debbie Millman:

How would you describe it?

Massimo Vignelli:

To begin with, black has class. It’s the best color.  This is no other color that is better than black.  There are many other colors that are appropriate and happy but those colors belong on flowers.  Black is a color that is man-made.  It is really a projection of the brain.  It is a mind color.  It is intangible.  It is practical.  It works 24 hours a day.  In the morning or the afternoon, you can dress in tweed, but in the evening, you look like a professor who has escaped from a college. Everything else has connotations that are different, but black is good for everything.  My house is covered in black.

Debbie Millman:

Are all your clothes black?  Do you wear all black?

Massimo Vignelli:

Yes.  Always.  Always. 

References

Millman, Debbie.  2007.  How to think like a great graphic designer.  New Yorker: Allworth Press, pp. 214-215.

9 thoughts on “And here I was thinking it was a pretension”

  1. I had an art professor, that for every single class the whole semester, worse black on black. If it was cold, a dark grey sport coat

  2. There is a great scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” where the fashion magazine editor played by Meryl Streep lectures the young intern on the recent use in fashion of a particular colour, purple or chartreuse, if I recall correctly. Watching this scene led me to think that every colour is loaded with connotations, history and meaning for people involved in fashion, so that choosing the colours of one’s clothes and accessories must in consequence be fraught with hazard for fashionistas (as indeed the movie makes clear). Black, on the other hand, is not-colour, so choosing to dress in black may initially have been viewed as a deliberate renunciation of this colour choice. Black (at least initially, perhaps less so a decade on) was therefore choosing not to choose, and so by definition cool: black was art disguised as artlessness.

  3. Grant: thank you for the major shout-out.

    Peter:The quote you are referring to is from my favorite scene in the film. I loved it so much, I transcribed it so that I could refer back to it. Here it is in all of its fabulous entirety:

    Miranda:
    Is something funny?

    Andy:
    No, no, no. Nothing, it just so, it is just those belts look exactly the same to me. I am still learning about this stuff, and…

    Miranda:
    This… stuff. Oh, okay, I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select, I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you are trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about whatever you put on your back but what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002 Oscar De La Renta did a selection of cerulean gowns and then I think it was Yves St. Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets and then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers and then filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs. And it is sort of comical to think that somehow you made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry, when in fact, you are wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room, from a pile of… stuff.

  4. i recall a documentary about leonard cohen made c the late 80s (around his “comeback”) and they showed his closet and it had nothing but a modest number of identical black designer suits…

    PS i for one have seen debbie millman in red ; b

  5. could be that designers are like the chasidim, getting their fashion cues from 18th century polish nobility. maybe not.

    i always wonder about the thought that ‘cool is conservatism dressed in black.’ personal observation: a lot of younger designers seem to believe this too and seem to be less afraid of color in their wardrobe.

  6. true, the vignelli quote is a great example of how designers think and speak: subjective, passionate, opinionated and within their own and personal – and often intriguing – philosophical cosmos.

    “To begin with, black has class. It’s the best color. This is no other color that is better than black.” – this is typical provocation to open the scene.

    “There are many other colors that are appropriate and happy but those colors belong on flowers.” – introduction into the philosophy

    “Black is a color that is man-made. It is really a projection of the brain. It is a mind color. It is intangible.” – philosophical core – delivered with the same winning attitude as the initial provocation.

    “It is practical. It works 24 hours a day. In the morning or the afternoon, you can dress in tweed, but in the evening, you look like a professor who has escaped from a college. Everything else has connotations that are different, but black is good for everything.” – pitching the benefits.

    “My house is covered in black.” – testimonial.

    you gotta love it. the content follows the passion for presentation and creation – solid, rounded and 95% subjective.
    it is the opposite of science – it is pure storytelling. – and inseparably linked to the context of the interview.
    the statement itself is a piece of design.

  7. to be more precise:

    the 5 step model the way i showed it above is actually the typical way for a heterosexual designer to speak and think.
    with a homosexual designer it is actually exactly the other way around. – beginning with the testimonial, then the pitching of the benefits , then the philosophy parts and finally the more general statements.

  8. Back in the 60’s (when color was unleashed in popular culture) at Massimo’s first design practice in Chicago, he and his staff would wear white lab coats. He was trying to create the impression that his design was so rational,logical and impersonal that it was like science.

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