Mauve runs in my family. “Oh, there’s my mauve,” my late grandmother used to murmur as she saw any item in a lighter shade of purple.

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Enter email addressInvalid emailSign upBy signing up you confirm that you have read and agree to the terms and conditions, cookie policy and privacy policy.Whatever you call it, mauve, lavender, lilac, violet, it was definitively “my colour”. One of her favourite things was a mauve pashmina worn in the 1980s with her Dannimac while popping out to buy a newspaper. At my sister’s wedding in 2004, she wore a 1980s shoulder-padded mauve suit, the sort of thing you see women wearing at Republican conventions. It was boxy, buttony and in-your-face. I know what that sounds like, but it was gorgeous.

My grandmother was in good company. Miuccia Prada returns to the colour again and again, in her collections and on her Prada catwalks. She loves it because it is “difficult”, and uses it as much to antagonise as to adorn. For her autumn/winter 2012 show, she created a vast purple carpet. She followed that, for S/S15, by piling the show space with 150 tons of lavender-dyed sand.

Now, mauve is having a renaissance, championed by Roberto Cavalli, Michael Kors, Lanvin and Alessandro Michele at Gucci. Madonna wore an extraordinary lilac brocade suit for her tribute to Prince at the Billboard Music Awards. Rihanna chose to wear a lilac-frilled maxi prom dress shops in london from Giorgio Armani Privé to the Brit Awards last February.

It’s not quite in the same league, but I have my eye on a lilac blouse by Hillier Bartley (£890,, Topshop Boutique’s belted coat (£225, and a pair of lilac Casadei pumps (£710, from the resort collection.

It has given me so much joy to see this supposedly old-fashioned shade brought to life. No longer reminiscent of dusty Yardley lavender packaging, mauve has been made to “pop”, often clashing next to gold, pink and green.

My grandmother would surely not approve of the trend: she never let other colours clash with her lilac, wearing it with black (slacks), beige (a scarf with a trenchcoat) or head to toe (a pleated pussy-bow dress). She wouldn’t be impressed by the high-end embrace of the hue, either. For her the greatest triumph was to find the colour in her “boutique”. This was code for any charity shop, which was just as well because it was near-impossible to find things in this colour anywhere else: it just looked so dated and so Dynasty.

Yet there remains something special and unusual about the colour named after the mallow flower in French (“mauve”). It’s arresting in a way that other pastels aren’t. Perhaps because its discovery is quite recent: it was invented as a dye only in the late 1850s. As social historian Simon Garfield writes in his wonderful book Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour That Changed the World, its creator, William Perkin, discovered it by accident while looking for an artificial way to create quinine to save soldiers in India from malaria. To his amazement, the sludge he cooked up with coal tar rubbed off on his shirt and dyed it a pale purple. Realising that it dyed silk permanently, Perkin, then 18, patented the formula and persuaded his parents to invest in a dye factory in Greenford, west London. He made his fortune within five years.

Just as mauve’s darker cousin purple was always the imperial colour worn by rulers of the Byzantine and Roman empires, so mauve became the colour favoured by high society in both London and Paris in the late 19th century. Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III and a fashion plate of her era, had a penchant for clothes in pale violet, “to match her eyes”. French chemists had developed a similar dye using Mediterranean shellfish, but it was expensive and time-consuming to produce. Perkin’s discovery led to mauve becoming the most fashionable shade in Victorian Britain. The 1890s are sometimes known as “the Mauve Decade” in tribute to its popularity and to the idea that this was a period of optimism.

Since my grandmother’s death 10 years ago, I have become a lilac obsessive myself, stockpiling images of bits and bobs we might once have swooned over together. The V&A’s collection of “aesthetic dress” (dresses for “actresses and others with artistic leanings”) features several extraordinary mauve garments, including a smocked dress by Liberty with a white lace trim, while the most beautiful discovery I ever made was a pair of lilac silk boots from the early 1860s at the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, which were utterly beautiful and highly impractical.

Our love of lilac was always a shared experience. My grandmother and I would have earnest discussions about whether Elizabeth Taylor — who, like Empress Eugenie, had violet eyes — could be considered the colour’s truest champion. Taylor’s most memorable costume, in Cleopatra, was a shade of lilac, but she was often also photographed in a deeper shade of purple and this, to my grandmother, was sacrilege. (“Purple is not the same as mauve.”)

From left: Elizabeth Taylor in lilac at the Oscars in 1970; Rihanna at this year’s Brit awards; Demi Moore at the 1992 Oscars © Getty Images; Camerapress; Wire Image

Our ultimate mauve moment was furnished by another actress, Demi Moore, who wore a 1940s style gown with long gloves and a stole to the 1992 Academy Awards. It was the prom dresses london of our wildest fantasy and I have never forgotten it — nor my grandmother’s response: “Now, Viv. That’s a frock.” It pops up regularly in lists of Worst Oscar Fashion of Years Past (“this look just screamed beauty pageant”).

Mauve is a bold choice and you can’t expect everyone to love it. But when it’s “your” colour? You don’t care.

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