Emma Bovary, a character in Jane Eyre Gets Real by Annabelle Troy, loves beautiful dresses. The era in which she lived, the mid-19th century, saw the turning away from natural dyes such as indigo, and the explosion of rich new colors through the use of aniline dyes. Think acid green, royal purple, chrome yellow, pillar box red. Victorian women were shrinking violets no more; instead they were bold violets bedecked in coral and sapphire with hints of that trendy new color, mauve. In 1856 the 18 year old English chemist William Henry Perkins “invented” mauve, and a range of other fantastic hues, by accident; he had been trying to find a cure for malaria but revolutionized fashion instead. In an attempt to synthesize aniline with quinine, he came up with a mixture that dyed cloth an amazing purple. He filed a patent for it. From then on, labor-intensive dyes made from natural substances became a thing of the past. Forget plants and crushed beetles; make way for coal tar (from which aniline is extracted). Unfortunately, Perkins was born before “Shark Tank.” Though he achieved much renown for his colorful work, by the 1890s Germany had a monopoly on chemical dyes, and Perkins had to sell off most of his holdings. Still, he had a good run, including owning a factory which literally painted the town red on many occasions, and he is known to this day as the Father of Mauveine.
Another “brilliant” fact: fossils indicate that ancient dinosaurs were covered in bright feathers. They may have even been peacock feathers, whose iridescence serve as camouflage. So next time you see “Land of the Lost” imagine the Tyrannosaurus Rex Grumpy coming at you in blazing techno-color, feathered tail and all. He’s a little less intimidating now, huh? What’s next? Dragons who breathe fireworks? Unicorns with horns made of stained glass? In the magical-yet-real world of ornamentation anything is possible.