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The Color Of New York City

The color of New York City, by Alex Chen

It’s the energy. It’s the way people walk, it’s the way people talk. It’s the way people live. You know: In New York, people dress in black all the time.

This quote was from Massimo Vignelli, when he was asked “What makes New York so special?” by Debbie Millman in the Book “How to Think Like a Great Designer”. In the interview, Massimo kept mentioning that people living in New York dress in black all the time. In his opinion, black is an intangible color, and the mind color, which can fit in the city all the time no matter which area you are in. 

Massimo(1957–2014) was also a designer who appreciated the color black. He loved black so much, that most of his designs were full of strong black and white contrast. Even the shirts, and clothing he designed and wore were all black, and his identical signage system in New York Subway also used black as background. To him, colors belong to flowers, and black is the man-made color which shows great intelligence.  I doubted that “the color of New York is Black” simply because this impression was said by a designer who craved black so much.

Six months ago, I asked Emily, a couch surfer who lived in New York for half year, about the same question “Which color do you think is the representation for New York?”. “Black” she said. From that time, I started to believe that what Massimo said might be true.

Until few weeks ago, I visited New York City and experienced the overwhelming black color from what people wore on the street to the main color in the subway at the first night when I arrived. The image was so strong that it made me feel all the other light was absorbed immediately by the black clothes, and the shapes of people’s bodies were also merged together because of the color. The things that Massimo said just popped into my mind, and I realized his words when these impressive images kept appearing on my retina for several days. Black coat with black turtleneck sweater; black shirt with black cashmere scarf, the people in New York share a common dressing code secretly and quietly walk through the splendid city showing New Yorkers’ taste.

I was wondering how the interaction goes… designers like Massimo, Michael Bierut both like to use black, and they all have significant influence on New York City such as the subway signage system, numerous cooperation identities , and posters on the street. These black color designs are located in different corners of New York City, and burns into the subconscious of people’s minds becoming the color code of the city.

“The color of New York is black” isn’t a myth anymore, because a “to see, to believe” experience had convinced me totally. When I walked on the 5th Avenue, people who wore black just kept walking by. 
I imagined that Massimo used to walk on the street like that once upon the time, to feel the energy of the city and to get inspiration through what he saw on the street. Though he passed last May,  his designs are already embed into the city so well becoming a part of people’s life. Cheers for the color black, for New York City and Massimo Vignelli.

一直到前一陣子,自己到了紐約,第一個晚上就體驗到了所謂鋪天蓋地的黑色衣著出現在自己的視網膜上面,好像附近的照明全被那些黑色的布料吸收了一樣。黑鴉鴉的一片,包容了人跟人的形體,模糊了輪廓變成一整個視覺色塊。腦袋中閃過他說的話,有關黑色為何在紐約如此被鍾愛 “Because of the image” 我好像能理解他說的黑色的影像是怎麼回事了。 這樣明顯的色彩比重在別的城市裡面我還沒有如此強烈的感受過。黑色的大衣包裹著黑色的高領針織毛衣,黑色的長褲,圍巾,皮鞋手套,城市裡的人們好像都接收了同一套衣著密碼,串通著在這個花漾繽紛的城市裡展示同一種品味的默契。

對於這樣的色彩刺激,一直持續了三五天。我開始想著到底這樣的現象是怎麼樣地互相影響。一個長期在紐約耕耘的設計師,設計了許許多多黑色的識別,還有整個紐約地鐵的標示系統,用的主色系也是黑色。這樣的影響流轉到他的得意門生Michael Bierut 的設計上,許多著名的海報以及商標設計都只用單純的黑色。而這些設計或隱或顯的出現在紐約的各個角落,進入人們的眼睛裡,烙印在意識的某個視覺映像中,成為城市的色彩密碼。

紐約的顏色,黑色,在自己的意識裡不再是某個都市的軼聞傳奇,而是親生經歷的眼見為憑。走在第五大道上看著五光十色的櫥窗時,身邊一個個穿著黑色大衣的人們快速的前進,對街上各個年紀的人幾乎也都以黑色的衣著移動著,曾經Massimo的身影也在這樣的街景裡穿梭感受紐約的能量獲得一點點設計上的靈感,雖然他的人已經不在但他的設計已經深深嵌入這個他深愛的城市.....敬這個黑色的城市,敬紐約,敬Massimo Vignelli.

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