Friday, 17 April 2009

What’s in a colour?

Apologies in advance if this entry may be a little dry and dull - but I thought it worth talking about the colour of the coat before embarking on making the Alcantara version.

FACT: colour is a very subjective thing.
Someone may see something as red, someone else may see it more as a purple, others a magenta.

The 10th Doctor’s coat is equally puzzling as it seems to change colour from image to image.

Shown here are close-up details from fifteen images of the coat.
They ALL look different colours; some are beige; some are walnut; a couple are dark brown; some are even bordering on an olive colour - but they are all allegedly the same coat, therefore have to be the same colour.
Now to be fair, some of these images are heavily retouched and altered to create a mood image for the relevant episodes, so some colours here are probably red-herrings.

So, with all this choice available, who can point to a single image and say - THAT is the colour the coat should be?

From a couple of close-up portraits of The Doctor, I could see the coat had been made from a faux suede material, so I set about finding as many as I could.

Internet searches turned up a lot of suppliers and distributors, so I requested samples from as many as would let me have them. What emerged was a wide void in the browns on offer; most could only provide either a dark chocolate, or a light beige oatmeal colour, with nothing to bridge this gap, and certainly nothing that looked like the deep weave that I could see in the images I was looking at.

There was one supplier, however, who’s range did fill in the gap and with a fabric with a deep lush pile, Malabar.
The colour option I found was Shamois Walnut:

I very nearly overlooked it, as the swatch on their website looks nothing like the material, but when the swatch arrived it had all the qualities of at least two or three of the colours in the montage above - the more mustard end of the colours.

The material also has a nice feel to it; heavy but not too stiff; no bonded backing like I had seen on some swatches; a natural texture without feeling manufactured and man-made; and washable at 30degrees C, so a bonus there! It is also not too badly priced, being mid-range of the fabrics I had found. This is what I used to make the Mk II coat, and my current Mk III.

I did subsequently post some images to the DoctorWhoForums and got some mixed feedback; some thought it good, others came from a different viewpoint.

Then someone posted an image of themselves in a very good Tennant coat, but with their face curiously cropped off - maybe he was shy? The photo had been taken indoors in front of a police box, which looked very much like the one at the Earl’s Court exhibition. The coat was really good. I mean a REAL good match. It was a shame it did not show the dummy wearing the real coat to compare it to. Never mind.

Anyway, the next person to post in that thread said:
Very funny pic. Nice coat though. Shame the color is a bit off
I looked closer at the photo, admiring the work of a fellow coat maker. They had got a lot of details just right; the cut of the collar looked great; the pockets were just right; they had copied everything, right down to the 8 inch section that had been cut from the bottom and then re-attached - JUST like the coat on display at Earl’s Court. Which got me thinking - that IS the coat from the display!
I private messaged him and he eventually confessed that he had been there helping set-up the exhibition and had quickly tried the coat for size and had a sneaky snap taken.

What this illustrated to me was that no matter how accurate you can be - even wearing THE coat - someone will still think it wrong, either in the cut of the pattern, or the colour of the fabric.
So what hope is there then of making a replica that passes everyone’s approval . . . . ?

Having said all this, the fabric used for the coat does have something curious properties about it, which I first noticed when I saw it on display in Manchester.

I am not saying it is magic, but I took both these pictures using the same camera; both with flash, but yet they look totally different colours.
One looks a light coffee colour, the other of a more mustard.

Referencing these back to my montage of images, you can see there is a match for both these variants.

Then, in November 2008, someone posted a thread on the forum, highlighting that there was now a display of costume designs and ‘Alcantara’ was listed as the material for the coat.
Finally we had a more tangible lead to track down the right fabric!

Just a little background, from what I have been able to find out.
Alcantara is a specialist fabric, used for a variety of premium applications such as designer furniture, prestige car interiors and upholstery in super yachts. 

Their main range has in excess of fifty colours to choose from (picture right shows the unfeasibly large swatch brick). I quickly realised that none of these were the right ones as they lacked the depth of weave that the coat has. I know a few people latched onto the basic colour range and I think convinced themselves they had found it (colourway 4180: Taupe emerged a favourite), but it was not the right finish, being a very man-made, flat, consistant colour.

But in parallel the basic range, Alcantara also make a couple of application specific ranges; a micro suede, which is much thinner intended for fashion use; two ranges with embossed patterns for interior design; and finally a fabric which has a depth to it, rather than a flat-colour. This is the one used for the coat. However, not all suppliers stock these additional fabrics, opting only for the core range.

The Alcantara range of fabrics are a synthetic faux suede effect, and the now long discontinued range that the coat material comes from has deep flecking to it, being made of a near black and a lighter brown thread mix.

This does not make it iridescent as such, but it could explain the massive variations of colour it displays when photographed.

When my roll of Alcantara arrived, I must admit I questioned myself as to if it was right. To check, I took some photographs in different lighting conditions, and was surprised by the results.

First I took a couple of pictures indoors, with and without a flash.

On the left is it taken with the flash, on the right is without the flash.
Again referring back to the montage, it matches at least two swatches there.

I then took the roll outside to take a couple of shots in daylight, and I got different results again.

On the left it is looking more mustard, on the right more like a light chocolate. I changed a couple of settings on the camera, so it auto-exposed differently.
Looking at all four of these images together here, you could be forgiven thinking that they are each a different fabric, but I assure you they are all the SAME roll!

So, to answer the final question of what colour fabric the coat is made from, in my opinion, the image at the very top of this entry is the best single image that represents the Alcantara material.

However, it is all in the eye of the beholder. After the journey of tracking it down, I am left with a fabric which to me looks different depending on lighting conditions or what is surrounding it.
I think what ever colour you feel happy with and for you reflects how you see the coat, then THAT is the right colour.

By the way, did you notice that in the montage of images of the coat, the image in the bottom right hand corner is actually of my Mk III coat? If not, doesn’t that just go to show that, in the right context, something wrong can look right . . . ?

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