It started with two-toned hair.
Drew Barrymore’s black roots faded into blond tips, while Rihanna’s hair started auburn and ignited into fiery, lavalike ends.
But this summer, ombre is unleashing a gradual explosion of intense colors onto our eyes, lips and nails.
Ombre — pronounced AHM-bray — means shaded or shadow in French, but in modern fashion and home decor, it describes the subtle transition from one color to another.
Sometimes the hues sit next to each other on the color wheel: a pearly pink blurs into fuchsia that melts into a candy-apple red.
Other times the colors aren’t related at all — as when turquoise transitions into tangerine.
You can probably picture the colors flowing through a maxi dress, but does this really work with makeup? Wouldn’t that ombre look like a clown? There was once an unbreakable rule about bland lips with bold eyes.
When it comes to color, this is fashion’s brightest year in decades.
Skinny jeans are purple. Bags are banana yellow. Ballerina flats are kelly green. And to complement all these monochromatics, high-fashion faces are featuring, in bold colors, ombre eyes and lips. Talk about “taste the rainbow.” Skittles has got nothing on summer 2012.
“The people that are going bold dare to go bold,” said Chhor Tim, makeup artist at Philadelphia’s Couture Hair Studio, who worked a lot of ombre eyes on her clients this prom season. “They don’t care. It’s exciting to be extreme.”
These days, fantastical fashion is usually traced to Lady Gaga. Credit her makeup artist, Tara Savelo, with being among the first to suggest that so many bright features on one face could go mainstream.
Smoky green eyes paired with purple lips started to show up on fashion models in September’s glossies; it was a way to amp up the simple silhouettes just on the verge of going bright.
By this spring, ombre techniques in makeup became so hot, Tim said, that ordinary women were requesting multicolored lips to go with their multicolored hair. Eye makeup is getting so funky, artists are layering color upon color so that lids look like Burger King Whoppers. And, Tim said, “we are seeing ombre in leopard and zebra prints.”
Before ombre became synonymous with all things two-toned, it was the name of a dyeing technique developed in the 1840s. It became common in fashion in the 1920s, during the flapper era, said Clare Sauro, curator of Drexel University’s historic costume collection, when silhouettes became straighter and ornamentation was replaced with the ombre techniques. Back then, though, the graduated colors focused on quieter shades of blues or tans.
It was as much about texture and shine as it was about color, Sauro said.
The swirling of shades became fashionable again in the 1960s and ’70s as tie-dyed clothes morphed into styles.
The trend hit makeup in the 1980s with the punk movement. Cyndi Lauper wasn’t afraid of yellow lips; Boy George’s were gray in the center and edged in black. But punk rock was scary, and mainstream fashion wasn’t hearing it. Back then all you needed was a red lip and a smoky eye (thank you, Robert Palmer) to be scandalous.
Today’s era of do-it-yourself fashion — there are a gang of instructional ombre videos on YouTube — combined with society’s heightened sense of individual style makes this a perfect time for the return of ombre in everything, said Sauro, not to mention our current worship of all things 1920s.
And, Sauro said, social media sites — especially Pinterest — have helped cultivate an ombre crush as this season’s pinners are nuts about color, especially when it comes to hair, jeans and, yes, makeup.
“The idea of personal style is really important,” Sauro said. “We are exposed to so much more, and a wider array of things are held up as desirable at a pace much faster than it’s ever been.”