WHILE YOU SLEPT, the colors have changed. Not on the trees. In the fall mail-order catalogues.
Remember how proud you were when you learned that ecru was basically an off-white? Well, ecru, named after the small French animal from whose leavings the color is distilled, is now on the passe color list. My catalogues from J. Crew, Tweeds and other upscale schmutterfloggers, barely use the term. Garments are no longer listed in white or ecru. White sweaters are now snow, winter or limestone. Off-white is now parchment, lava, quartz, bone, shell or ale.
I swear, I am not making any of this up.
Slightly darker tones, moving to what the unenlightened might call tan, are now sand, mortar, feather, rattan, palomino, thorn, mushroom and creme. Getting still darker, they transmogrify into fig, mocha, dusk, thatch, oatmeal and other things to eat, should you become tired of wearing them. Dark browns are now called tobacco, snuff, maple, hide, monk and even expresso. There's a color called breen which you can get find only in the Tweeds catalogue in wide-wale corduroy shorts, should you want to complete your Albanian Army effect. You will not, however, find it in the dictionary.
Good old pink is also out of fashion. Not the color, just the name. Light pinks are tea rose, dawn, blush, mist. In darker hues they become watermelon and conch. Light greens are myrtille, fig, celery, pistachio, mistletoe, aloe, olivene, mango and something called celadon, which is, as far as I can tell, a color associated with cleaning out old refrigerators. Darker greens are forest, jungle, Eire. The color previously known as olive drab, and so popular with fighting men, is now called surplus.
Blues range from sky, to delft, to moon, to lake, to midnight. Oranges from saffron, to halloween, to cayenne, to harvest to mongoose, which might be useful should you run into an unexpected cobra.
The especially creative names deserve mention as etymological triumphs. What about cherub, for instance? Which part of the cherub are we talking about? How is the color derived? Would you wear a T-shirt whose color was called feather? How about an anorak in lead? Or socks in sanguine? Or knickers in signal?
For your edification, cherub is a ruddy flesh color, a sort of fresh-from-a-hot-bath skin tone. Signal is a yellow orange rather like a school bus. Sanguine is red. I think they mean sanguinary but they're too stupid to know it. Lead is dark grey.
Combining colors, always a problem, gets more complicated. Would you wear a brandy sweater with a rum shirt? A brick cardigan over a mortar turtleneck? A corn belt with oatmeal trews?
And what about Alaska? Alaska is a light green for some reason known only to the intellectual A-bombs at Tweeds. How would you wear this color with artic, a pale cream from Clifford and Wills? I mean, what goes north of what? And could you wear chalk with slate, without producing that spine-freezing effect?
The degrees of subtlety are infinite. Is sanguine redder than regent or less than madder? Is myrtille greener than olivene or less than hedge? Is cadet bluer than admiral? Or less than Amish? And why are the Amish blue at all?
I repeat, I am not making this up.
But, when word got out, as it always does, that I was conducting a study of new colors, I got a call from several catalogue companies, panting for additional ideas. J. Crew even offered to send over the model on page 56, the one with the sexy malocclusion got up in watermelon Goretex.) And business has been brisk. I charge a royalty for every garment using one of my new colors. Here's a few you will be seeing in the next glut of catalogues.
I'm very proud of Dunkin, that eyeball-searing pink used on donut boxes. Another popular choice, to be used in many sports garments is Standard, a dark blue used on the insignia of vertical plumbing. Also popular is Age, a spotty pale hue that blends in with many other garments and, in some cases, with the customers themselves. Sweaters and slacks will be available in Tree, a color deriving its natural heritage from those large wooden things found in every forest.
In other parts of the spectrum, I've got a dried blood red I call Schick, and a dull pink we will call Lenin. I've come up with an assortment of blues, actually all the same color but with 15 different names.
But my greatest success has been my environment colors.
As you know, the environment is a big deal these days. People are going to want to look like the earth itself. Our models are meant to look earnest and fortright, innocent yet wise. They're in tune with the planet, honest colors expressing love of sea and sky and ozone.
Thus I've come up with Sod, a gentle, greeny brown, reminiscent of the way the land looked before corporations spread poison all over it. And Loam, a rich deep ochre, exuding the spirit of pure natural soil, the way it looked before acid rain ruined everything. And Mud, a soft brown, one of the fundamental ingredients of our precious wetlands heritage before money-grubbing developers raped it. And finally, Oook, an off-black, the same color as our tidal flats, where settlers innocently dug shellfish before pollution destroyed our coasts.
In future catalogues you will be able to get hundred-percent wool sweaters in Sod, which go very nicely with a natural cotton shirt, available in Loam and Mud, worn with Oook trousers.
Of course, when we finally get the planet cleaned up, you'll be invisible.
*When not coloring haute coutoure, Jeff Danziger cartoons for the Christian Science Monitor.