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Publication Date: 2014-04-06


Black and White’s Effortless Appeal

Classic, chic, elegant, minimal, refined, bold. Any of these words, and infinite more, could describe black and white.

“Spin” rug by Joseph Carini; interior by Axis Mundi.

But maybe the best word for the combination is “effortless.” It appeals to everyone, everywhere. Black and white films, Avedon’s photography, print on a stark white page. It’s always in style – a universal thread that connects all parts of our culture.

Coco Chanel by Richard Avedon

As Carini Lang’s designer, I get to work closely with color – creating new dyes and trying out bold combinations – but I’ve got a soft spot for pure black and white. I find myself drawn to it and I love combining the colors in new ways to see how it translates into a rug. Luckily, I get plenty of opportunities to experiment; interior design is the perfect canvas for black and white.

For one of our current projects, I spent hours developing a beautiful checkerboard pattern to be woven in natural white and black. The home’s aesthetic is very minimal on the whole, with a palette of greys, black, white, and natural finishes. We're often working with bold colors or beige-y neutrals, so strictly black and white has been a change of pace. Despite the demand for color, black and white designs have always proven to be best sellers.

Some of my favorite designers and brands are pros at using black and white, whether in classic or inventive ways. They are always inspiring me to take the palette and make it work on the floor.

Ingo Mauer’s functional “Floating Table

de Gournay hand painted wallpaper in an interior by Etcetera Living in Dubai.

Designer Andy Goldsborough uses black and white to create the minimal mood of this bright space

Cape Dutch House by Cúre and Penabad.

Miller & Wright Architects uses black molding on white for unexpected contrast in this NYC home.

“Dichotomy” table and chairs from: Kelly Wearstler

Black and white’s reach extends far beyond the humble world of interiors. Musicians and artists have been some of the most creative when it comes to using black and white. The theme comes through in songs, album covers, wardrobe, and more.

Michael Jackson’s 1991 single, “Black or White” was the fastest song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 since the Beetles’ “Get Back” in 1969. “Ebony and Ivory,” Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney’s 1982 single, stole the number one spot and stayed there for seven weeks.

The early days of punk rock – an era I remember well – were defined by black and white. It was the anthem of America’s youth; long-haired musicians wore leather, denim, and frayed tees and their fans followed suit. Album covers and band photography were almost all done in black and white.

The Ramones’ logo of a simple black and white circle made a lasting impression of popular culture. And the wild black and white makeup sported by the members of KISS? Still iconic and still imitated, more than 30 years after the band’s prime.

Punk’s godmother, Patti Smith, poses in black trousers, suspenders, and a loose, white button-down for her 1975 album cover, shot by Robert Mapplethorpe.

Johnny Ramone performing in front of the band’s logo.

The King of Pop was known for his iconic style – sometimes a white tee with black pants, often white socks with his black loafers, and occasionally a single, white glove.

Blackand white is a fashion staple. The tuxedo. A leather jacket over a white tee. Black trousers and a white blouse. Cap-toe oxfords. Houndstooth, polka dots, and stripes. Color has its place in your wardrobe, but black and white is the ultimate statement of style. Coco Chanel was quoted as saying, “Women think of all colors except the absence of color. I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”

Today, black and white is still a huge part of Chanel’s aesthetic and it’s no doubt a large reason for its success. Chanel pearls and refined silhouettes.

Dressed in black and white, Coco Chanel pins a dress onto a model.

Closely related to to fashion, art is another arena where black and white takes the spotlight. One artist in particular has always inspired me: Jean Michel Basquiat. For an upcoming exhibition, I’ve had the chance to collaborate with many street artists and through that, I’ve seen a new facet of Basquiat’s influence. He is widely respected in the world of fine art, but his impact extends also underground.

His close friend, Keith Haring, was a graffiti artist in the 80s and today, street artists from Brooklyn to California to Europe cite Basquiat as a source of inspiration. While out and about in the city, I have seen Basquiat’s signature crown replicated by numerous graffiti artists. More than 20 years after his death, he is still influencing pop culture: Jay-Z was recently seen wearing a t-shirt with Basquiat’s likeness and Beyonce has worn Basquiat-inspired nail art.

Basquiat’s “Pegasus” painting, which Reebok recently translated into a line of shoes as a tribute to the artist.

Basquiat’s art was the album cover of Rammellzee and K-Rob’s 1983 single, “Beat Bop.”

Keith Haring paints his signature shapes on a wide expanse.

What is it about black and white that makes us ever interested? Is it the contrast between the two polar opposites. Or maybe it’s the way they complement each other perfectly.

Whatever it is, it keeps me coming back for more. From art to fashion to interiors – the effortless combination will always be in style.


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