“Dreaming in Black & White” – by Marilyn Kirschner

An article that ran in The New York Times Thursday Style section, July 25, 2012, “A decision Unshaded by Doubts”, by Katharine P. Jose, grabbed my attention. It chronicled the writer’s personal decision to fore go all colors and wear only black & white.

It was the fall of 2008, following the death of her father after a long illness, and she immediately thought, “From now on I think I’m going to wear black & white, only.” The appeal was simple: “It represents something: the sharp contrasts that can’t be sharper, the simplicity of it”. She said that she came to “experience this wardrobe restriction as a pleasant and very manageable state of affairs” and noted, “I have never looked back at colors, and I am never tempted”. “I sort of like seeing my closet almost entirely monochrome; it’s peaceful.”

I completely identified with what she said and agreed with her observations. I too have been drawn to black & white, and have always preferred this duality to all others. Plus, it allows one to make endless combinations, and even get dressed in the dark, as everything goes with everything. It’s so simple, so easy, and all but foolproof (there’s something to be said about these qualities, given our chaotic world and our chaotic lives).

I have found myself many times toying with idea of editing my closet and shopping habits accordingly. Theoretically, I loved the challenge it represented but wondered if I could actually show such self discipline and restraint ( I’d quickly think of how much I would miss navy, khaki, red, the glorious colors of the rainbow, and of course, my vintage Pucci’s, which I periodically pull out from time to time).

Then Marc Jacobs unveiled his spring 2013 collection during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, and it was almost an entire study in black & white. It looked so good, so fresh, so modern, so right, and so appealing, I immediately wanted to follow suit. Actually, I guess you can say I became obsessed.

Proenza Schouler Spring 2013 Collection

Black & white was also the star on many other highly influential runways, including Calvin Klein, Chado Ralph Rucci, Narcisco Rodriguez, Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, Ohne Titel, and Rag & Bone, and in some cases, it was enlivened with flashes of strong color, which looked great as well. It has been said that “Color is what makes black & white, BLACK AND WHITE”, and it’s so true. There’s also no question that applying this trick makes sticking to the formula much easier, and more realistic.

Even Ms. Jose admitted that she made some concessions to her pared down palette. Outerwear and accessories “were exempted” (in 2007 she bought a red Built by Wendy red wool coat that she loves). For sentimental reasons, as well as for sheer practicality, she uses old t-shirts and dips into her extensive scarf collection, (both of which she “could not part with”), and sometimes adds gray, denim, and silver to the mix.

J.Crew Tipped Peacoat in antique white and black $298

The beauty of black & white, is that it is completely democratic, readily available at every price point, and it shows up in every conceivable category, from ready-to-wear and accessories to items for the home. These are a few examples, (and they don’t all break the bank): J.Crew’s tipped Pea coat in antique white with black, $298, www.jcrew.com ; Izola’s Paris shower curtain ($18.75), www.amazon.com ; MacKenzie-Childs’ iconic Courtly Check Enamelware ($65 – $495), www.mackenzie-childs.com ; the vintage Chanel tray table in black with white, www.1stdibs.com  (price upon request);

Black & white ceramic cocktail ring

black & white custom drapes with chevon stripes ($165), a white vase with bulls-eye black rings ($32), chunky knitted triple black & white infinity scarf ($65), 1.9 inch black & white ceramic cocktail ring, ($28), black & white zebra printed ceramic butter dish ($29,) and checkerboard dinner plates, ($35), all available on www.etsy.com ; and Marimekko’s black & white striped Tasaraita Mug ($22), www.marimekko.com .

Marimekko’s iconic Kivet patterned bedding

If you so desire, you can not only wear it, eat on it, sit on it, put butter on it, and live with it in every room of your house, you can also literally dream in black & white, thanks to Marimekko’s iconic Kivet and Kaivo patterned duvets and bed linens ($39.95- $140), available at www.marimekko.com  and www.bedbathandbeyond.com .

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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