Curator's Pick - June 2014

Email in the 1950s

Searching through our fabulous historic trend service collections to select viewing examples for one of our research visitors, we recently came across a very surprising shade name in the Paris Trends Collection Bilbille.  
The trend card Nuances Couture Soie, Hiver 1958-59, or Couture Silk Shades for the 1958-59 Winter Season, contains a total of forty silk samples divided into four palettes, each containing ten shades. The fourth palette, a stunning array of warm green-blues is displayed alongside the individual dye number and shade name in French: Aquamarine; Limpide; Parme; Gondole; Email; Paqueta; Cascade; Paon; Triton and Firmament.
The word jumped out far more prominently than the stunning shade it described. How could it possibly be called email; surely the word came into our language more than twenty years later. Predicting trends for the next season is one thing, but long term crystal ball-gazing is certainly another – there had to be another meaning for the word!
Confidently, we searched the online translation services– sure that the powerful combination of our fingertips and the internet would bring an immediate solution to the mystery. But we were wrong! Email is of course French for email, and no matter how many times we tried to guess what other word would translate to ‘email’, we failed.
An old paper dictionnaire français provided us with the answer we needed. Le voilà - the word we were looking for was émail not email! Just a simple accent over the e changed the meaning of the word completely; émail translates to enamel!
Little did they know the surprise they would give us today when they dropped the accent off the shade card fifty seven years ago. I wonder if we hold any more astonishing shade cards…