Picture the scene. A young hipster is stopped on a New York street and complimented on his T-shirt, a rather fetching shade of grey. He's secretly pleased, but a little creeped out - even more so when it's explained to him that his impressive garment was in fact inspired by an unfinished building in Abu Dhabi.
So the colour of a museum not even built yet, thousands of miles away, is influencing global fashion trends. It sounds ridiculous - but it's absolutely true. This season, one of the world's best-known fashion labels, Jockey International, took its cue from artists' impressions of Louvre and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, matched the colours and put these new shades at the centre of their current line.
And the more The National investigated, the more it made sense. The story began when Planet Money, an economics show from National Public Radio in America, began a project to make and sell its own T-shirt. It's the kind of stunt the show likes to pull: presenters Alex Blumberg and Caitlin Kenney are always coming up with different ways to illustrate to their listeners how the global economy works - they've set up offshore bank accounts in the past.
"Making a T-shirt is really interesting because you can tell a lot of stories about how a product moves around the globe, about cotton, trade agreements, labour and so on," says Kenney. "So we'd got to the stage in the process where we needed to go into Jockey's offices and choose what colour our Planet Money T-shirts would be. And we thought we'd just pick our favourite colours."
But it wasn't as simple as that. Jockey sat them down in front of a big binder with images and inspirations for colour. They were gently reminded that the colours they like might not correspond with their listeners' tastes - and that by the time the T-shirt went into production, fashions would almost certainly have moved on.
In this binder, incredibly, was a page featuring Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, with matching colourways underneath. The colour Planet Money chose for their male T-shirt was right there: Lantern Grey.
Of course, Lantern Grey isn't a colour used exclusively for this project - it's featured across Jockey's range. Kenney was as baffled as anyone that an unfinished building halfway across the world was the basis for their product. But only one person could really verify the importance of Abu Dhabi to the process: the woman who put the binder together.
Laetitia Lecigne is the creative director for Jockey International. She laughs when I ask what possible influence a forthcoming art gallery in Abu Dhabi can have on a T-shirt colour in New York. "This is the question I get asked most," she giggles. "People just think we're throwing random colour out there and hoping something sticks. It's a lot more complex than that."
Lecigne then shows me the binder page with Louvre Abu Dhabi on it. Her love for a set of artists' impressions is staggering.
"Look at the magnificent laser cut dome - it's all white, but the shadows create a multitude of greys, and when that's next to the surrounding water you get these beautiful tones. So what you do then is review our current bestsellers, and change them gradually to reflect these colours.
"It's a similar story with the Guggenheim," she continues, turning the page. "You can see how dark the greys are on the building and how they spark off the other colours. It's this phenomenal structure with amazing shades of colour."
Including, of course, Lantern Grey.
All of which still doesn't really explain why Jockey might be looking at Abu Dhabi in the first place. But Lecigne would consider it almost a dereliction of duty if she didn't.
"At most fashion companies, you get inspired by nature or art," she explains. "For the Jockey brand we look at architecture, too, what's up and coming, where in the world the interest will be in the next couple of years. And it's so obviously Abu Dhabi. It's a bit like the Italian Renaissance for the 21st century over there: this is where all the new building and excitement is happening."
The trick, she says, is to take the data about the colour of a new building in Abu Dhabi and somehow implant that into the subconscious mind of the person who walks into a store wanting a new T-shirt. It's a subtle, subliminal process: the idea is that as the Louvre Abu Dhabi gets more and more visibility and praise around the world, its tone will reinforce ideas of what is cool, so next time you go to a clothing store you automatically gravitate towards it.
But there remains one unanswered question. The Planet Money T-shirt for women is a shade of pink known as Sheer Rose. Last time we looked, there weren't any cool new pink buildings on the horizon in Abu Dhabi.
"No, but that pink is used in a Frank Stella painting which will be in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and will be talked about," says Lecigne with a knowing chuckle, again referring me to the binder.
Still not convinced? The proof was in the success of the Planet Money T-shirt. The team decided to sell their designs via Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website. Their goal, to make the project viable, was to raise US$50,000 (Dh183,645), asking for $25 per T-shirt. They made a staggering $590,807 in just two weeks. "We were shocked," laughs Kenney. "Just like we never imagined that Jockey thought about paintings and buildings in Abu Dhabi when they chose their colours, so we never thought it would do so well."
Must have been the colour choice, then. "It is fascinating, isn't it? Whether or not we are conscious of it, the people who make these fashion decisions aren't just throwing stuff out there. Right now, they're watching Abu Dhabi and it's influencing what they do and what we buy."
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