05 March 2012

Tobacco and the Green Ball

Father of Spin by Larry Tye, 1998, Excerpts

Company surveys showed that many women wouldn’t smoke Luckies because its green package with the red bull’s-eye clashed with their favorite clothing. Bernays offered advice that kicked off a campaign almost as legendary as the Torches of Freedom parade. “If you won’t change the color of the package, change the color of fashion – to green.”

First he analyzed the color itself, much as his uncle Sigmund might have done. A book entitled The Language of Color informed him that green was “an emblem of hope, victory, and plenty: and “symbolic of solitude and peace.” Those were upbeat themes to build on. Even more encouraging were statistics showing that green made up 20 percent of the current lines being turned out by French fashion houses.

He settled on a Green Ball to be held at the stately Waldorf-Astoria, attended by New York’s leading debutantes, with proceeds going to some deserving charity. A Green Ball would require not just green gowns, but also green gloves, green shoes, green handkerchiefs, green bandeaux, and, yes, green jewelry. The luncheon with green menus featuring green beans, asparagus-tip salad, broiled French lamb chops with haricots verts and olivette potatoes, pistachio mousse glace, green mints, and crème de menthe. The Green Ball came off as planned. It was “a gay, vivid night, something to remember,” Vogue reported. The ball firmly established green’s predominance.

A Color Fashion Bureau was available for green advice and was besieged with requests for information from 77 newspapers, 95 magazines, 29 syndicates 301 department stores, 145 women’s clubs, 175 radio stations, 83 manufacturers of furniture and home decorations, 64 interior decorators, 10 costumers, and 49 photographers and illustrators.

Bernays’ crusade on behalf of the color green was a precursor to today’s promotions by Macy’s and other retailers of products featuring the “Colors of Van Gough: and the “Palette of Picasso.” Similarly, his bid to link smoking to popular causes like women’s liberation and the stay-thin movement helped to inspire contemporary efforts to sell cigarettes by linking them to the macho Marlboro Man and super-cool Joe Camel.

Green dress worn by Keira Knightley in the film Intonement

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