Architectural Digest (UAE)

Rainbow Bright


Japanese design is known for its complex philosophi­cal bent, rich in cultural allusions. What isn’t so well understood in the west is that this approach extends to colour, or “iro”, which has played a symbolic role in Japanese society for centuries. From the courtly hues once used to denote rank to the vibrant shades of modern mass-produced objects, the meaning of colours in Japan has evolved over time, creating an intricate and highly nuanced web of associatio­ns. With her new book, Iro: The Essence of Color in Japanese Design ($80, Phaidon), Rossella Menegazzo sets out to demystify this coding system, using as her starting point a catalogue known as the DIC Traditiona­l Japanese Colour Guide. From this book, she has selected 200 of the most significan­t shades, representi­ng each via a single image and a concise text outlining its origins, use and importance. Everyday modern objects like chairs, bicycles and kitchen tools are placed alongside rare porcelain vases and antique kimonos, revealing how colours have found reworked meanings with every passing era.

As associate professor of the History of East Asian Art at the University of Milan, Menegazzo is a knowledgea­ble companion on this colourful journey, which is the first ever survey of Japanese design as seen through the lens of its traditiona­l colour spectrum. The author describes how inspiratio­n is found in everything from the red of a temple façade to the pink of spring cherry blossom, the fur on a mouse’s back, and the green of newly sprouted rice shoots. There’s also, of course, the iconic aiiro, or indigo, Japan’s most common blue dye and a familiar feature of crafts through the ages. As well as anonymousl­y made pieces, readers will spot creations by the leading lights of modern Japanese design, among them Nendo, Issey Miyake and Shiro Kuramata. Seen in this new light, they can be more fully understood.

Pleasingly, the book’s concept is mirrored in its design: it’s printed on craft paper and bound in traditiona­l Japanese style. Each spread is framed in a different hue, creating a vibrant rainbow effect when the book is closed.

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