Carol Vorderman turns fashion clock back 150 years to honour colour genius

27 September 2006

Carol Vorderman
You might think a haut couture dress costing thousands of pounds is expensive. 

Before 1856 it would have cost a fortune to buy any coloured dress; but after that and thanks to chemistry almost everybody could afford to wear colourful clothing and the world looked very different and much brighter.

In that year 18-year-old English chemist William Perkin produced mauve, the first synthetic organic dye, while attempting to synthesise the anti-malaria drug quinine, thereby changing the appearance of society dramatically.

Perkin, whom science history has sidelined, will be centre stage this autumn as the Royal Society of Chemistry commemorates his remarkable achievements which laid the foundations of the global fabrics industry and the drugs industry.

To launch the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of mauve the RSC invited Carol Vorderman to model an original mauve dress made four years after Perkin's scientific breakthrough and another by designer Bruce Oldfield.

The world's leading theatrical and film costumiers Angels loaned the original 1860 dress with bonnet and boots to be modelled by the television star who has a deep interest in science.

Ms Vorderman said after the photographic session: "While it was fun wearing the Victorian dress and the new Bruce Oldfield gown I did the session mainly to promote understanding of the way that science affects everyday life for all of us. We tend to take for granted the science behind everyday life from electronics through transportation and to food and drink. In ancient Rome purple became the official Imperial colour because it was so expensive to produce, entailing the gathering and crushing of thousands of crustaceans that yielded the dye for just one garment.

"It was later adopted by the church and by modern royalty as a colour that suggests richness and dignity. 

"But if it had not been for a teenage scientist in Victorian London seeking an answer - which he also achieved -  to the colonial scourge of malaria the arrival of all the other colours on the streets today would have been much later and life would have been far less colourful.  The fashion industry owes much more to science than perhaps it realises.

Related Links

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Perkin Anniversary

A fun way to find out more about the discovery of the synthetic dye mauveine

Carol Vorderman

Carol Vorderman Photographs

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