The Color Purple

How an accidental discovery changed fashion forever

Eighteen-year-old student William Henry Perkin created purple in March 1856 during a failed chemistry experiment to produce quinine, a substance used to treat malaria.

Perkin instead invented the first synthetic dye. He originally called it “Tyrian purple,” but then settled on the French word “mauve.”

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Perkin’s discovery came at the right time: the industrial revolution allowed him to produce the dye quickly and bright colors that didn’t fade were in high demand.

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Mauve was an instant hit.

And a business associated wrote:

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...a rage for your color has set in among the all-powerful class of the community.

In the late 1800s, the color was favored by elites and royalty including Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III and a leading trendsetter in Europe.

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Purple continues to be associated with royalty today. Queen Elizabeth II is often seen in the hue.

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It’s even associated with royalty of a different kind. Purple became so associated with Prince that PANTONE released a new shade in 2017 to honor the late musician.

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