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Meet the Queen of Color: Hella Jongerius

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Cladding Nike shoes in wool-felt Maharam fabric is a prime example of how Berlin-based Hella Jongerius, a global expert on all things color, softens industrial design with a touch of craft. This summer, Vitra’s art director of colors and materials (she’s updating its entire manufacturing palette) will use new installations to educate and inspire her fans at “Breathing Color,” a show at the London Design Museum that opens June 28.

What can visitors expect?

I’m taking visitors through all the colors of the day. They’re always there, but they’ll appear to change throughout the day
with different lighting conditions: Morning light will have bluish reflections; sharp yellow at noon; and at night—when the light is filled with air pollution—black starts to mix into the hues.

What makes a color exceptional?

When it touches on many different aspects of design: shapes, materials, space. Great colors are made with high-end
pigments, resulting in shades that breathe with the light, that take on new hues under diverse circumstances.

Are there any historical eras that inspire you more than today?

Today’s color designers seem busier with psychology than with actual color. When it comes to history, it’s pigments and their limitations that interest me. With only seven or nine pigments, the early Renaissance painters—Raphael and Michelangelo—were able to mix large amounts of colors.

So who did it best?

Masterpieces by Vermeer or Rembrandt are fascinating to me because of their use of pigments. The Dutch masters revolutionized the art scene because they mixed paints—not colors—with natural pigments extracted from valuable ingredients from far away. That’s where their magic came from.


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