Colour rationality: discovering the Natural Colour System

It is “widely recognised as the most rational and reliable tool in the world of chromatology”. We are talking about the NCS – Natural Colour System, “not a simple collection of colours”, but a method in which “the selection of shades is the result of reasoning”, as expert Gianluca Sgalippa explains


The Natural Colour System (aka NCS) is – as we read online – “widely recognised as the most rational and reliable tool in the world of chromatology“. In other words, it approaches the world of colour as if it were a science that requires, as we read in this interview, a certain kind of “reasoning” behind every choice combination. Explaining to us in detail what we are talking about is an expert on the subject: Gianluca Sgalippa, lecturer at some prestigious design schools in Milan, essayist and design critic.

In what terms can colour be considered a language, and by constructing which balances does it allow fashion to express itself?

Contemporary creativity, in various sectors, is characterised by a strong transversality. The world of goods, especially fashion, includes everything, although some trends have more space than others. Colour is also part of this huge phenomenon. All colour solutions are now available to designers in a situation of equivalence. Every brand, every collection, and every garment draws on the world of colour freely, without inhibitions.

Among other things, between the 1970s and 1980s, designers cleared customs of many colours associated with precise uses, such as black in mourning. And to think that it, in its absoluteness, underlies many avant-garde brands, such as Yohji Yamamoto or Ann Demeulemeester. Colour, in short, is now an indispensable and fertile tool in the fashion industry. Its use is even associated with a form of courage and experimentation.

How does NCS – Natural Colour System differ from other colour systems?

The NCS Colour System is not a simple collection of colours. Unlike Pantone or RAL, which are simple collections, the shade selection is the result of ‘reasoning’, which obviously takes place with the aid of the original paper tools. For example, within the triangular-shaped hue plane, the eye evaluates the transformation of the ‘solid’ hue as it loses its chromaticity and approaches white or black.

NCS – Natural Colour System also pays great attention to the categories of neutral colours, i.e. chromatic greys, which are present in most ‘things’ around us. These are greys characterised by a slight chromatic component, sometimes barely perceptible, which, however, makes all the difference. In addition to rationality, the other fundamental characteristic of the system is, however, that it is universal, i.e. applicable to all sectors of manufacturing, from water-based coatings to, why not, the world of leather. Calfskin or lambskin nappa is a perfect context for application!

Can colour be considered a project’?

I would rather say that colour is an integral part of a project. Here, it should no longer be thought of as a later addition or a secondary element, an “adjective”, but an indispensable aspect of any artefact, even when a neutral shade is adopted. It is true that in the redevelopment of a space, the colour scheme can vary according to taste without altering the pre-existing building, but colour must be part of a general thought, a guiding philosophy.

For example, in the Valentino collections created by Pier Paolo Piccioli (creative director of the Maison until last March, ed.), the use and combination of solid colours are part of a precise and unified vision. His work emphasised the relationships between colours, which, in the end, is what gives a fashion project its distinctive personality.

Do you think it is correct that a colour can become a trademark, as – for example – in the case of Louboutin red?

Today, the various brands adopt stratagems to distinguish themselves from each other in order to conquer market shares. The choice of so-called ‘iconic’ colours is part of this game. In my opinion, the identification and launching of a ‘branded’ colour constitute more of a media boutade, like so many other marketing and image operations.

I find Valentino red, invented by Mr Garavani many years ago, to be a more straightforward and genuine operation than Gucci’s very recent Ancora red or Bottega Veneta’s improbable green. Often, the presence of a corporate colour gives rise to forced acts, as shapes, materials and product types are dropped into a hue that has nothing to do with that colour. Instead of seeking or expanding identity, it limits it.

Is there a prevailing colour sensitivity today?

I would say no. I would say that the aesthetic sphere of contemporaneity is precisely pluralism, which also involves the world of colour. The wonderful palette of neutral tones that has characterised Giorgio Armani’s creations for fifty years runs parallel to colour solutions of different kinds, from bright colours to sombre shades. The trend is one of coexistence between different sensibilities. I believe this is a symptom of freedom, as long as this is exercised with respect for the environment and identities.

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