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June 06, 2021 3 min read

If you’ve ever watched a video of a DDR line launch, you’ve undoubtedly heard designer Cheryl McMullen use the term “poison color”. But what does it mean? And where did it come from?

“I might have made that term up, to be honest,” Cheryl laughed. “I’m not sure how technical it is, but what my unofficial definition is that a ‘poison color’ is intended to bring some balance and color dimension to a collection. It’s an unexpected color, a pop, which when looked at by itself can be ugly or jarring, but when mixed in it adds just the right amount of interest, and spices up the other colors in the palette. Everything gets more interesting. A good place to use poison is in our serapes; they all have one color that is incongruous or out of place, it makes all of the others look beautiful.”

The trick to a poison color, it’s main identifying factor, is that while it’s important to the overall aesthetic, it shows up in much smaller proportions to the primary hues of the collection – smaller ‘doses’, if you will. For instance, Sissy is primarily patriotic – a lot of bandana, Americana, red-white-and-blue – so we brought in hints of green to broaden the spectrum.

“You know, actually, in Sissy, I let the poison color take the lead on a couple of garments, which I don’t usually do,” Cheryl explained. “In the Love The World Away [Dress and Poncho], green is the prominent color. But has that bold trim in the season’s signature colors, which tie it back in. Normally, I tend to do it the other way around.”

The benefits (and necessity) of a poison color are multi-faceted. Not only does it add depth to the collections color palette, but it also tends to expand your options for accessorizing.

“Oh, that’s one of my favorite parts -- a poison that will make a certain stone pop,” Cheryl laughed. “Like a purple spiny oyster in Maria, coral in Gayle. You can see how, when they’re side by side, this color really brings out certain shades of turquoise.”

It can also be crucial in giving collections within a collection a sense of seamlessness. For instance, how this hue has grown with Cowgirl Closets.

“This season’s poison color is kind of that minty, soft green,” she said. “It’s carried over from Cynthia and Gayle, though it’s morphed a little with each collection. Evolved, I guess is a better way to describe it. That’s a progression you see happening with colors in fashion, even if you don’t consciously notice it, from collection to collection, season to season, even year to year.”

In the DDR definition of the term, a ‘poison color’ doesn’t necessarily need to be green – we’ve been known to poison with deep purples, burnt oranges, yellows – but when it comes to fashion, green was thepoison color.

Way back in the day, getting your green on could be deadly. In the late 1700s a scientist had developed a shade of green that became so widely popular it was named after him; the only problem Scheele’s Green was created by combining copper and arsenic. Yes, arsenic; you see where this is going. While the hue of the green evolved (told you, been happening for centuries!) and Paris Green, a more emerald shade emerged; unfortunately, still made from copper arsenite. Among hundreds of others falling ill or dying after contact, the poisonous pigment was believed to have been responsible for the death of Napoleon and Monet’s blindness. Eventually, the toxicity link was solidified and the shade fell out of fashion, and was officially banned.

Fortunately, we’re well past fashion’s complicated history with the color, but if you think about it, green is still very much commonly associated with poison – in literary references, movies, even video games.

“That’s probably how it started, me using that term,” Cheryl mused. “I probably first used it to refer to a poison green, and then in another collection I’d say, ‘Ok, this time, my poison color is mustard,’ and so on. Who knows, but now it’s stuck!”

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