Indigo: Hue and History

Indigo: Hue and History

Photography by Alex Van Dorp

 

Indigo is a dyestuff vibrant in both hue and history. Extracted from the Indigofera genus of flowering plants, indigo has been used to dye fabric for over 6,000 years. From ancient Peruvian, Egyptian, and Indian civilizations to modern day Nigeria, America, and Japan, indigo carries a near endless number of complex, intertwining, and sometimes violent stories, which may be the very reason so many current designers, brands, and consumers have fallen in love with it (whether they're aware of the social, political, and historical meanings that permeate the dye or not).

 

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In the era of Facebook, Instagram, and Tinder, when so many individuals are concerned with shaping their personal brand and so many brands are concerned with shaping their personal story, indigo seems to infuse garments with a level of authenticity that is difficult to fake. Used to dye work garments in the Americas and Japan, among other places, for hundreds of years, indigo implies a beautiful ruggedness that may be best defined by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi.

 

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Yet, these days, just as many jeans are factory faded to mimic years of real wear, most indigo garments are colored using the dyestuff’s synthetic form. Created by chemist Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer in 1880 and turned into a commercially viable dyestuff by 1897, synthetic indigo almost completely replaced natural (plant-derived) indigo by 1913. Does this make synthetically dyed garments less authentic than naturally dyed ones? The answer may depend not only on an individual’s interpretation of authenticity, but on who is doing the dyeing and how the dyeing is done.

 

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Text by Jacob VictorinePhotography by Alex Van Dorp.

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January 19, 2017