If ever there was a colour associated with richness, with spiritual as well as monetary wealth, it has to be purple. It may not have the kudos of being part of the visible light spectrum (a status afforded to its lighter relative violet) but it has always been the favourite colour of those in power. And it’s a fabulous colour for blinds and curtains too.
A colour with royal connections
The first purple dye, known as Tyrian purple, dates back to the fifteenth century BC and was made, rather unpromisingly, from the mucus of sea snails that inhabited the Eastern Mediterranean! Given that 250,000 snails were needed to make a single ounce of dye, it was eye-wateringly expensive and literally worth its weight in gold. No wonder then that Julius Caesar got a taste for it and decreed that no one else was allowed to wear it but him.
Purple’s popularity amongst the elite continued in succeeding centuries. Elizabeth I wore the colour to her coronation banquet in 1559 and when she died 44 years later, her coffin was draped in purple velvet. It was Queen Victoria’s favourite colour - a fact that is supposed to have led chocolate makers Cadbury’s to adopt it for their branding - and the British royal family still use it as the ceremonial colour on special occasions.
Fortunately for those of us with more limited means (as well as the population of sea snails), a way of creating purple (or mauve) synthetically was discovered by the chemist William Perkin in 1856. This led to the colour’s much wider use. Famously it was adopted by the suffragettes; the purple symbolising loyalty and dignity alongside white (purity) and green (hope).