Influence and Wealth

A History of Purple

No other colour has been more legislated throughout history than purple. Reigning above all other colours, purple is saturated with controversy and has been coveted for centuries.

With mythical origins, it is fabled that demi-god Hercules first discovered the hue. Entranced by the colour, the beautiful nymph Tyrus declared that if Hercules could craft a garment of the same shade, she would sleep with him.

While a provocative story, it begins the long fascination with purple throughout history. 

It wasn’t until the 1850s that purple dyestuffs were synthetically made. Prior to this, purple dyes were created from molluscs (Bolinus Brandaris) located exclusively in Tyre; a region of the Mediterranean Sea, now part of modern day Lebanon. The colour’s rarity was due to the extreme difficulty in production. It took 250,000 molluscs to create just 28grams of dye.

Yet, the colour was vibrant and exorbitantly expensive to yield – which was a mesmerising attraction to the elitist class and royalty.

Cleopatra, queen of Egypt flaunted her wealth and power, adopting purple as her signature colour. The Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was gifted a purple toga from her and forbade any citizen to wear the same shade. Starting a long history of legislated use reserved only for the highest royalty and elite class, which lasted well into the Elizabethan era.

When English chemist William Henry Perkins accidentally created a synthetic dyestuff in 1856, he dramatically changed the history of purple by making it accessible.  At 18 years old, Perkins recognised the significance of his findings and patented the compositions under Aniline Purple and Tyrian Purple, in turn making a fortune.

Now days the “Supply and Demand” for purple is very different from the past, yet it retains its strong symbolic meaning. It is no surprise that the musician Prince adopted this colour as his trademark, giving him the nickname “The Purple One” on the 1984 Purple Rain tour; imposing Prince’s power, allure and exuberant wealth of creativity on the music industry.

So the next time you reach into your wardrobe, consider the power that purple can have.