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The Standard Book of Color: Puce
by Andrew Berardini

Hex: #CC8899

HSV: 0.9583, 0.3333, 0.8000

A smashed flea filled with your blood stains puce.

French for flea, this color was first uttered seeing the bloodsucker’s death streaking white sheets. In the circuit between flea and host, heartbreaker and heartbroken, torturer and tortured, there is no difference, a new beast is born from their intimacy, assassinated upon separation, dying in a smear of puce. A love that kills the thing it loves, a suicidal hunger maybe, a certain abjection you can’t deny yourself.

Adorable and awful. Puce is a word like a joke to designate effeminate men and discriminating women, a tea cosy color, but underneath its soft fade, always hides a bedbug's demise.

When he hits you and it feels like a kiss, its color is puce. A fistful of love, a bruise that blossoms with sickening vibrance. Examined in the mirror, its color matches your soul. Terrible and beautiful, infused with sinister magic, a lover you can fuck but never wed, easily touched and never possessed.

The word is almost owned by Kenneth Anger in Puce Moment, a film introduced to me by a lover as “a celebration of the sweet and dangerous resignation involved in existing only within the glamour of your interior world,” which of course she did. A decadent beauty photocopied from silver screen vamps lives in a world populated purely by the glamour of exquisite dresses. The twinkle of stars is merely electric light on flickering sequins. She leaves to walk her trio of thoroughbred dogs, but one wonders how easily her witchy allure withers if she were to linger too long outside the walls of her mansion.

Puce is the color of Norma Desmond’s lipstick as this empress takes a last courtly walk into the arms of the reverent police, spiritual inferiors to a cold grandeur only Demille or von Stroheim can honor. Puce is my color for Miss Havisham’s wedding dress as she waits, surrounded by the derelict ruins of her uneaten feast, lit only with candles and the shine of her ancient eyes, still searching for that miracle to come.

“With this boy? Why, he is a common laboring boy!" says Estella.
I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer,—only it seemed so unlikely,
—"Well? You can break his heart."

Under the subtitle “Singular frivolity of the adulative courtiers,” Isaac Disraeli relates an anecdote that in the summer of 1775, Louis XVII of France caustically remarked that his queen Marie Antoinette’s silk dress was “couleur de puce,” the color of fleas. It set off a craze for silk of that color. Another fickle fashion easily veiling the coming revolution.

She wore simple cotton for the executioner.

Mixing with the jeers of the terrorists: the clatter of silver plate, the hiss of a perfume bottle, the rustle of a puce dress, one of her last worn. A few notes from an old song once memorized but now hard to recall, ghostly half-dreams punctuated by sharpish trifles, some echo of fallen opulence must have followed her as she strode to the guillotine.

Before the whistling swoop and wet thud of the blade, her last words were to him. Stepping on his foot she apologized, "Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it.”


Andrew Berardini


(Image on top: Still from Kenneth Anger, Puce Moment, 1949; Courtesy of the artist.)


Posted by Andrew Berardini on 6/22/13 | tags: perspective puce color kenneth anger History art writing standard book of color video-art

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