WHILE you slept the colors have changed. Not on the trees. In the fall mail order catalogs. Remember how proud you were when you learned that ecru was basically an off-white? Well, ecru is now on the pass'e color list. My catalogs from J. Crew, Tweeds, and other upscale outfitters barely use the term. Garments are no longer listed in white or ecru. White sweaters are now snow, or winter, or limestone. Off-white is now parchment, lava, quartz, bone, shell, or ale.
Slightly darker tones, moving to what the unenlightened might call tan, are now sand, mortar, feather, rattan, palomino, thorn, mushroom, and cream. Getting still darker they transmogrify into 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 espresso. There's a color called breen which you can find only in the Tweeds catalog in wide-wale corduroy shorts should you want to complete your Albanian Army effect.
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 (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? And would you wear an anorak in lead? Or socks in sanguine? Or knickers in signal?
Well, for your edification, cherub is a ruddy flesh color, a sort of naked skin tone, fresh from a hot bath. Signal is yellow orange, rather like a school bus. Sanguine is red, as in blood. And 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? Or the other way around? A corn belt with oatmeal trews?
And what about Alaska (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?
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?
When word got out, as it always does, that I was conducting a study of new colors, I got a call from several catalog companies, panting for additional ideas. (J. Crew even offered to send over the model on page 56, the one with the appealing malocclusion got up in conch Goretex.) And business has been brisk. I charge a royalty for every garment using one of my new colors. Here are a few you will be seeing in the next glut of catalogs.
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. 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 entire assortment of blues, actually all the same color, but with fifteen or so 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 forthright, innocent yet wise. They're in tune with the planet. They want honest colors expressing their 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 the corporations spread poison all over it. And loam, a rich deep ochre, exuding the spirit of the pure natural soil, the way it looked before acid rain ruined everything. And mud, a soft brown, one of the fundamental ingredients of our nation's precious heritage of wetlands before money-grubbing developers savaged 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 catalogs you will be able to get 100 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.