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Who created colour blocks?

Colour blocking, the use of blocks of solid colours in fashion design, has become a major trend in recent years. Though colour blocking may seem like a relatively new phenomenon, its origins can actually be traced back centuries. In this article, we’ll explore the history of colour blocking and how it has evolved over time into the popular aesthetic it is today.

The Bauhaus movement

One of the earliest influences on modern colour blocking came from the Bauhaus school, which was founded in Germany in 1919. Bauhaus artists and designers embraced minimalism and the use of basic colours and shapes. Many Bauhaus artists explored colour theory and the power of using contrasting hues together.

Bauhaus instructor Josef Albers published his seminal book “Interaction of Color” in 1963, which examined the effects of placing colours together. His work directly influenced many minimalist artists at the time.

Bauhaus Artist Contribution to Colour Blocking
Wassily Kandinsky Painted geometric shapes in contrasting colours
Paul Klee Experimented with colour harmony and tone
Piet Mondrian Painted blocks of primary colours with black lines

The colour blocking pieces created by Bauhaus artists were visually striking and bold. Their experimentation showed how impactful bold colour combinations could be.

Pop art movement

Colour blocking principles were also explored in pop art starting in the 1950s and 1960s. Pop artists were fascinated by bright, eye-catching colours and paid close attention to colour theory. Many pop art pieces featured solid blocks of colour.

Andy Warhol, one of the most famous pop artists, frequently incorporated colour blocking into his silkscreen printmaking. His iconic Marilyn Monroe prints use solid blocks of bright colour to create a vivid, eye-catching effect.

Pop Artist Use of Colour Blocking
Roy Lichtenstein Solid blocks of colour in comic book-inspired paintings
Robert Rauschenberg Combines colour blocking with collage and mixed media
Jasper Johns Layers blocks of encaustic wax paint

Pop art brought colour blocking into the fine art world and showed how it could be used for visual impact. The style was seen as bold, fun, and modern.

Colour blocking in fashion

Though colour blocking in art paved the way, the technique did not make its way into fashion as a notable trend until the 1960s. Designers such as Mary Quant and André Courrèges began experimenting with colour blocking in mod styles.

Mondrian dresses, inspired by Piet Mondrian’s colour blocked paintings, also became popular in the 1960s. Their simple style and bold use of colour was striking and fashion forward.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, colour blocking could be seen in the designs of many famous fashion houses. Yves Saint Laurent produced colour blocked dresses and suits, and Christian Dior created colour blocked gowns.

However, colour blocking faded as a trend through the 1990s and early 2000s. Fashion tended to take a more minimalist, neutral approach during these decades.

The modern colour blocking trend

In the late 2000s, colour blocking suddenly came back into vogue in a major way. The Spring/Summer 2011 fashion shows featured a slew of colour blocked pieces from top designers.

Since then, colour blocking has become a standard part of modern fashion. Designers such as Stella McCartney, Jonathan Saunders, Prada, and Gucci have all incorporated colour blocking into their collections. The style has trickled down to mainstream fast fashion brands like Zara as well.

Today colour blocking can be seen in all types of clothing and accessories. Everything from dresses, separates, suits, handbags and shoes now frequently feature colour blocked designs.

Type of Garment Examples of Colour Blocking
Dresses Contrasting colour blocks on skirt and bodice
Tops Blocks of colour on sleeves, yoke, sides
Pants Contrasting coloured panels
Jackets Different coloured sleeves or side panels
Shoes Oxfords with colour blocked toes and heels
Handbags Colour blocked leather or suede panels

Part of what makes colour blocking so popular in modern fashion is its versatility and wearability. Colour blocking can be subtle or bold, but always makes a statement. The colour combinations and placement allow consumers to add visual interest and style to their wardrobes.

Why colour blocking endures

When looking at the history of colour blocking, it’s clear the technique has cycled in and out of fashion over the decades. So why does it continue to come back time and time again?

There are a few reasons colour blocking endures as an innovative style:

  • It allows consumers to add flair and interest to their clothing with minimal effort. The colour does the work.
  • The contrasts create visual impact and vibrancy.
  • Colour blocking reflects modern graphic sensibilities.
  • It aligns with minimalism by reducing design elements down to colour and shape.
  • The bold style photographs well for magazines, social media, etc.

Many predict colour blocking will continue as a staple style for years to come. Fashion is cyclical, but colour blocking has proven its timelessness as an innovative technique.

Notable colour blocking designers

While colour blocking has moved into mainstream fashion, many designers are recognized for taking a more avant garde, artistic approach to the technique.

Some designers known for their colour blocked pieces include:

  • Miuccia Prada – Prada’s colour blocked pieces use contrasting colours in bold, graphic ways. The Spring 2011 collection brought Prada colour blocking back to the forefront.
  • Roksanda Ilinčić – Known for colour blocked dresses, often with hand-painted or digital prints.
  • Mary Katrantzou – Creates colour blocked prints that almost look collaged or pieced together.
  • Peter Pilotto – Bold colour blocked prints with lots of geometric shapes and digital elements.
  • Cushnie – Uses colour blocking in feminine, form-fitting silhouettes.

These designers prove that colour blocking can be endlessly innovative. New technologies like digital printing allow even more possibilities with the technique.


Colour blocking has carved out an enduring place in the fashion world due to its versatility and visual appeal. While the origins can be traced back to the early 20th century, colour blocking continues to feel fresh, modern and exciting. Fashion historians predict this artistic technique will chime with our graphical, digital age for years to come.

Whether designers use colour blocking minimally or in an avant garde way, it adds vibrancy and interest to clothing. As one of the most popular trends of the last decade, colour blocking has cemented its place in fashion history.