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Visual merchandising basics: more on colour

Following my recent column on the use of colour in VM, let’s take a look at another variation, still using the four-colour primary colour wheel.

The four-colour wheel - with red opposite green, and blue opposite yellow - allows more subtle combinations than the fine artists’ three-colour primary, which is usually taught in schools.

Moving on from the more interesting secondary colours and rainbows of colour, which I described last time, let’s take a look at Tetradic colour, another opportunity for VM colour palettes that the four-colour wheel allows.

Tetradic colour is the use of any four colours from the 4-colour primary wheel which are evenly spaced apart, and if linked together would form either a square or a rectangle across the face of the colour wheel.

These might be two colours apart on the wheel as in the purple square:

Indigo (a blue-purple) - a warm carmine red - a pale apricot orange - and a high-summer forest green.

Or they may be one colour apart as in the white rectangle:

A true cobalt blue - a warm carmine red - a true bright orange - and a high-summer forest green.

Or as a second example, also one colour apart, in the red rectangle:

A true cobalt blue - a red-purple - a true bright orange - and a clear yellow.

And lastly, taking any two adjacent colours and using their opposites to form a rectangle, as in the yellow rectangle: A true cobalt blue - a red-purple - a clear yellow - and a yellow spring green.

Even apparently employing only three of these four colours works, as Salvatore Ferragamo’s current window shows us.

The Bond Street store window shell is comprised of 2 tinted acrylic panels: a warm carmine red, and a true bright orange. The part-closed back wall is painted a clear yellow. 

The fourth tetradic colour – a true cobalt blue – is used for the floor of the closed-back display. By overlapping the panels, the orange panel at the front left of the window intensifies the yellow back wall to a light orange while neutralising the contrasting cobalt blue on the floor of the window, making it appear grey. In the centre, the carmine-red panel overlaps the yellow back-wall creating a brighter cherry red. A very simple display, simple to install and with lot of colour, but still perfectly balanced and therefore harmonious, this concept would work for any four tetradic colours.

Another example, this time from Spring/Summer 2013 by Dolce & Gabbana, tones down some colours with lots of white, creating four-colour part-pastel tetradic palette.

Here the Italian puppet theatre scene that the closed-back window has become is neatly conveyed by the warm carmine red and orange stage set curtains, set above the theatre flats in a pastel green version of the forest green that is the third tetradic colour.

The fourth tetradic colour is supplied by the cobalt blue in the blue and white coat draped over the back of the rustic rush dining chair in the centre of the window. The rest of the window, including the muted-colour street scene which forms the backdrop to the window and the golden window surround and floor, are near monochromatic neutrals.

Of course, the square and the rectangle concept will work for any of the colours on the wheel, or any wheel that may be further evenly subdivided with additional colours.

Interesting? Less obvious than the regular three-colour primary palate? I think so!

Dr Valerie Wilson Trower writes a regular column on visual merchandising for Retail Design World