Did 'Rear Window' Turn Chartreuse Into Fashion's Favorite Color?
The 1954 Hitchcock film used the eerie green shade to illuminate Grace Kelly's role as detective.
Grace Kelly lays on a bed in a publicity still issued for the film, 'Rear Window', USA, 1954. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Hitchcock never did things by accident. Each frame, outfit, and line of dialogue has meaning ready to be unpacked by the viewer. Referencing Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock told François Truffaut, “I went to Kim Novak’s dressing room and told her about the dresses and hairdos that I had been planning for several months. I also explained that the story was of less importance to me than the over-all visual impact on the screen, once the picture is completed.”
In Rear Window, Lisa (Grace Kelly) cycles through six outfits in the 115 minutes the film is rolling (one gets the distinct sensation that the film continues even after the camera is turned off). A cosmopolitan black-and-white gown for a night out, a suggestive silky night gown, a fire-truck red button down in the final scene, and, of course, a chartreuse green two-piece suit with a white fascinator and veil. Named after the liqueur, chartreuse has a long lineage in fashion; “By the late 1800s, chartreuse could be found on feather fans, gowns, purses, shoes, and hats,” writes color-expert Katy Kelleher in the Paris Review. “It’s reminiscent of the green you glimpse in a rainbow or a prism, that impossibly vivid color that sears your eyeballs. Chartreuse seems to glow,” she continues. Chartreuse has come in and out of vogue throughout the years, re-making an appearance as firmly part of the zeitgeist in 2019.
The glowing hue of Lisa’s smart two-piece suit was found in multiple 2019 runway collections. Alexander Wang sent models down the runway in tweed blazers and skirts that weren't quite fluorescent, not pastel either, but something in between: the color of the glow in the dark constellations you arranged on your ceiling as a child. Marine Serre's Fall 2019 show took the look a step further. The runway resembled a bowling alley, with black lights that made the clothes illuminate. Marine Serre’s collection turns the twee chartreuse worn by a Hitchcock blonde on it’s head. The glow of the clothing emanates from a process called phosphorescence, which absorbs radiation and in turn emits light. The effect is at the same time benign and otherworldly.
Just as the glowing stars on your ceiling are meant to comfort you in the dark as a child, the Versace glow-in-the-dark iPhone case ensures that you'll you never lose your phone at night.
Without hesitation, I would buy a ticket to see a Rear Window remake where Lisa sheds her sea-foam suit for Marine Serre’s strapless glow-in-the-dark bubble dress. In both cases, its role in the film would stay the same: a metaphor for seeing something in the dark when you're not supposed to be looking. Negged by the moody “Jeff” (James Stewart) for her interest in clothes, Lisa’s eye for fashion leads to the conviction of the murderer Lars Thorwalk. In a case of voyeurism-gone-arwry, Lisa notices Lars’s deceased wife’s wedding ring on a side table and the peculiarity of a handbag left behind. (One could put forth an argument that the thesis of the film is that clothes have much to tell us.) Lisa plays the detective who uses clothing as clues, while wearing a color that, metaphorically speaking, connotes seeing and finding. Like the green of Van Gogh's "Vase with Pink Roses," chartreuse fashion, like the upcoming YEEZY Boost 350 sneakers, seems both soft and dangerous. Childlike and exploratory, chartreuse is fun and eerie at the same tine. It’s the color of someone who wants to be see and be seen, a color that tells all while still portending mystery.
Rear Window isn’t the only Hitchcock film that plays with the eerie qualities of the color green. In Vertigo, Hitchcock shot Madeleine (Kim Novak) through a fog filter to achieve a “green effect, like fog over the bright sunshine,” Hitchcock tells Truffaut. Later in the film, a green neon sign illuminated Judy (also Kim Novak) “so that when the girl emerges from the bathroom, that green light gives her the same subtle ghostlike quality,” Hitchcock continues. The whole scene is in chartreuse, a green monochrome hotel room. In a way, this scene in Vertigo also represents a discovery; Scottie (James Stewart) learns that Judy can metamorphose into Madeleine.
If I were to set out to try to discover, say, a crime committed by a neighbor across from my window, I’d opt to wear an outfit fromIssey Miyake’s Fall 2019 collection, in which chartreuse peeks through the stained glass fabric like a lighthouse on the coast The opposite of robbers in the night who wear all black to remain inconspicuous, people would know I don’t mind being seen.