Orkney White

Orkney White

Inspired by the soft white sands of the Orkney Islands’ beaches, our new Orkney White shade has a rich, textural history, as colour expert and author Kassia St Clair discovers.

History lies closer to the surface in some places than in others. Heading down from the village of St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands, for example, the waters of Scapa Flow will glimmer beyond a moon-bright crescent of sand. The name itself, Scapa Flow, is a relic. It’s a corruption of the moniker given to this body of water by Norse raiders and conquerors a thousand years ago – precious, because it’s cradled away from the worst Atlantic storms.

The islands and their history have a curious affinity to the colour white. They were formed by glaciers wearing away layers of sand and limestone. The Norsemen who held them for centuries traded in cloth, salt, walrus ivory and fish, plying frothing seas in longships powered by winds puffed into woollen sails. Relics of earlier histories – in the forms of fossil, bone or stone fragments – are often unearthed by storms.

White has been a colour of dualities. Power and simplicity; pride and humility; wisdom and innocence; joy and mourning. It was associated with deities and enlightenment, but also material wealth. Fine cloth, like wool, silk, linen and lace, had to be bleached to a pristine whiteness – a labour intensive and expensive process – and keeping it that way took battalions of servants who could launder, repair and starch precious textiles. Simultaneously, white has been embraced as a symbol of purity and virtue, which is why brides wear it. In design, it can sometimes be haughty. Le Corbusier, for example, liked to opine that whitewashing all interior walls would have a moralising effect on a society. But whites – particularly those infused with candlelight yellow, peachy or shell-pink undertones – as Neptune’s new creamy neutral Orkney White is – can be fresh, cleansing, even warming.

Syrie Maugham, a trail-blazing British interior designer nicknamed the ‘princess of pale’ during the 1920s and 1930s, had a knack for layering off-white tones. This was a revelation for generations used to a surfeit of bright colours, piled fabrics and high ornamentation. We’ll never know what Orkney’s Norsemen might have made of her spaces, but perhaps given that one admirer called them visions of ‘smiling, shimmering, all-white’, I think we can guess.

Previous Article Next Article