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Carlo Volpi

Knit Blog

7th July 2014, London

The Green Death

Fashion has always played a very important role in the creation of an image, so much so that inexplicable suffering is still considered an acceptable means to looking flawless. From very well known Chinese foot binding and the corset, the most unusual fashion obsession I have come across is the use of arsenic dyes amongst the Victorians.

The term "Paris Green", another name for this lethal substance, originated in the French capital as it was widely used as rat poison. Although arsenic was the poison of choice amongst Victorian murderers, it claimed most of its victims by unintentional intoxications: this lovely shade of green was created by the oxidation of copper when it comes into contact with the poison and despite being totally aware of its dangers, the Victorians loved to use it in fashion fabrics, accessories and wall papers.

© Bata shoe museum

Paris Green is also to blame for the attribute of "mad" to hatters, who in Victorian times got over exposed to the substance to dye traditional hats. Because it was so cheap to produce, arsenic green was very popular and some painters like Cezanne used it frequently in his works (strangely enough, the production of Paris Green wasn't stopped until the 60's!).

© Bata shoe museum

The Bata shoe museum in Toronto, Canada, has dedicated an exhibition to Victorian fashionistas called "Fashion Victims - the pleasures and perils of dress in the 19th century". Arsenic dyed clothes, corsets, beautiful dresses made up of highly flammable fabrics are some of the items on show, a strong reminder of the absurd sacrifices we make in order to look good.

The shocking messages found on labels of UK retailer Primark's clothes and allegedly written by over exploited and under paid workers are another example of the almost psychotic delusion we are willing to endure for the sake of fashion.

On a lighter note, the colour green hasn't got any negative connotations in Italy, it is actually a shade that symbolises hope. In this lovely picture you can see the result of a new technique developed at Stanford University by Kwanghun Chung and Karl Deisseroth.

© Kwanghun Chung and Karl Deisseroth

This study has enabled them to inject a preserved brain with green dye, thus revealing an unprecedented view of all the neurons connections of the brain, a fairly big step forward in the understanding of the mechanics of our most important organ. (www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/researchers-turn-brains-transparent-by-sucking-out-the-fat-19105779/ ).

© Ingo Mauer

The jelly like texture of the image made me think of Ingo Mauer's chandelier: created entirely with farmed sponges which have then been dyed, the lighting fixture is equipped with music and natural sound players...a slightly acquired taste for somebody with a large house! (www.fastcodesign.com/1665259/ingo-maurers-massive-chandelier-made-from-sponges-and-fake-butterflies )

If you're not familiar with the Primark clothing labels incident, you can read some more information here: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/25/primark-label-swansea-textile-industry-rana-plaza#

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