Colour File interview: Kassia St Clair

Kassia St Clair is a self-confessed colour addict and has written about colour for Elle Decoration since 2013. Her book, The Secret Lives of Colour, which documents the history of colours and the vivid stories behind them, was published in 2016 and was BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week in June 2017. Here, she tells The Colour File’s Martha Roberts about her own relationship with colour…


Martha: Can you describe your first colour memory?

Kassia: My mother was a florist, so most of my early colour memories are of her shop, which had a black and white checkered tile floor just covered all the time with buckets of blooms.

Martha: Do you have a favourite colour and has this changed over the years? Maybe it’s a cluster of colours. For example, mine are pink, green, yellow and purple together.
Kassia: I love greens. In fact I would even go so far as to say I crave greens. Glossy dark shades are a particular favourite at the moment, but I also love more jewel- and jungle-toned ones, teals, as well as the fresher, leafier variety.

Martha: What is your favourite colourful object/objects and why?
Kassia: I have this wooden puzzle made up of lots of different coloured balls — it may actually be a kid’s toy — that I picked up several years and which I keep on my desk. I pick it up and reconfigure it when I’m struggling to put something into words. Coloured highlighter tabs are also essential: I use them to help me organise all the notes I take to write books and articles.

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Martha: How does colour make you feel? Do you use it in your work or personal life to influence your moods or those of your readers?
Kassia: I find colours fascinating, and of course they affect my mood, but this is very mutable and completely depends on context. I’m a bit of a magpie really, without the really strong aesthetic that some people have.

Martha: Do you have a colour you could happily do without? 
Kassia: I wish I could do without black: I wear it too much and, since having written the book, I get a lot of grief about that!

Martha: What does colour mean to you in your day-to-day life? 
Kassia: In a way it’s become my job: I’m constantly reading about colours, their history and technology and the science behind them. But it’s wonderful to share stories about colour with people. I’ve loved that and it’s not something I necessarily expected or thought about too much when I first pitched the book, strange as that might sound.

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Martha: Do you think there are rules about colour? Or are rules made to be broken? 
Kassia: I believe rules are made to be broken. So many of them are cultural and specific to a time and place anyway; if you go back and look at the palettes popular in Victorian and Georgian eras, they are so different to the colours we put together now. Even the “period” colour schemes that we see in films or in magazines have been reinterpreted to appeal to our 21st-century ideas of good taste.

Martha: Do you have a colour story or anecdote?
Kassia: Perhaps when Aasmah Mir called me out live on Radio 4 for wearing black when I was in there discussing my book? (My top was black, admittedly, but my skirt was turquoise so I thought that was a bit unfair!)

Martha: If a colour was created in your honour, what colour would it be and what would it be called?
Kassia: Oh my goodness. It would have to be a dark green, perhaps “misted firs”?

Martha: If you could give people advice about using colour, what would it be?
Kassia: My advice would be, if you’re going to be living with it, don’t go for strident trends that will pall after six months. Other than that, ignore everyone’s advice and go with your gut.

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  • The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair (£20, John Murray)
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