Elephant's Breath & London Smoke


By Deb Salisbury

Publisher : Five Rivers Chapmanry

ABOUT Deb Salisbury

Deb Salisbury
Deb Salisbury is the owner of the Mantua-Maker Historical Sewing Patterns, established in 1994. Her costuming career began early – making dresses for her sister’s dolls. She discovered costuming at the BayCon masquerade, a science fiction convention held in 1885 1985, and soon thereaft More...


Have you ever read about a Victorian dress, and wondered: What colour, exactly, is heliotrope? Did you ever read an Elizabethan novel and say: Did anyone really wear Puke? When Chaucer wrote: his eyen bright citrin, did you wonder about what colour is citrin?

Have you wondered when aniline dyes were invented, how indigo was used, or how black fabric was dyed? Perhaps you have wondered when the colour London Smoke was used, or when Eiffel red was invented.

Here is the book to tell you!

Elephant's Breath and London Smoke:

Historical Color Names, Definitions, and Uses

This book will tell you about colour in history, the names of colors, when they were used, how they were used, what they looked like, and where they came from. There are dye recipes, paint ingredients, poetic language and general commentary all in the words of period writers.

You will learn about mourning colours, the effects of artificial light on colour, advice on what colours to wear, the colours found in cosmetics and theatrical make-up, and the names of the colorus of horses. You can read about symbolism in colours, heraldic colours, and complaints about the names of colours.

Deb Salisbury, author of Elephant's Breath & London Smoke has perused fashion magazines, books of dye recipes, art books, painter's manuals, mineralogy guides, tomes on colour theory, metaphysical texts, poetry and fiction, but especially period dictionaries and encyclopedias. Any resource that might give a hint on what a colour looked like or how it may have been used was fair game, from Chaucer to Chemistry Journals.

Most of the entries were printed in English, American, Canadian and Australian publications from around 1380 to 1922. Because French was the language of fashion, many of the English terms are French words. She has attempted to explain those colours, too.

If you are curious about colour, you will want this book!

There is a wealth of sources for historical clothing and costume research. The variations in corsets, sleeves, skirts and jackets since the 16th century can be traced nearly to the year. Fashion reviews from the period are plentiful and not overly difficult to interpret.

But what do you make of a reference to an Abraham skirt with fauvre ribbon embellishments? Would you realize the skirt was a dingy yellow and the ribbons were deep yellow? Unlikely; and most sources would not be able to enlighten you. By dint of extensive research and library searches, you could probably find out, but the road would be difficult.

Elephant's Breath & London Smoke helps address this difficulty. Historic costume researcher and pattern designer Deb Salisbury has collated references from hundreds of sources to produce this fascinating palette of colour names from the last 400 years.

She begins with the dictionary. Over 200 pages of color names and descriptions from Aaz (a red dye from India) to Zulu pink (a pale strawberry tinge). Dictionaries, of course, aren't meant to be read straight through. But dipping into the entries a bit at a time and finding those gems of shade, pigment and language is a delight.

Deb also includes sections with commentary from various periods addressing colour and fashion, historical color names ( covering cloths, dyeing, make-up and even colours of horses and livery), colour symbolism and harmony of colour. It also touches on the conventions of mourning colors. These sections are wonderful to read. The words of the period are essential to understanding and appreciation of the fashions.

This book is a fascinating reference and an essential addition to any costume library.

And what are Elephant's Breath and London Smoke? Well what would be the fun if we told you?
- Pierre E. Pettinger Jr.