The Yellow Man of Aleppo and other colour-rich tales

Already a well-known figure in Aleppo, Abu Zakkour hopes to be recognised by the Guinness World Records - something that has yet not happened due to the war

Powered by automated translation

For 35 years, Abu Zakkour has done things a little differently. While his fellow Syrians have gone about their daily business in their standard attire, he has chosen to live his life wearing yellow. Even after more than eight years of civil war, the Yellow Man of Aleppo has tried to be a symbol of hope and happiness.

From his tie, shirt and suit, to his hat, glasses, watch and umbrella, every aspect of his appearance is in the same chirpy shade of sunshine. Even Zakkour's briefcase and prayer beads match. If there are any items that he cannot find in the appropriate colour, he simply coats them in yellow nail varnish until they fit his look.

Zakkour, 70, adopted his rather unorthodox sartorial appearance in 1983, when he realised that wearing yellow gave him comfort. Having lost his wife and watched his sons flee the country, Zakkour claims the colour gives him solace. "For me, yellow represents love," he said in previous interviews. "When I walk down the street or go to crowded places, people smile and take photos with me. Many people stop to talk to me and joke with me, and I think it's called love."

A well-known figure in Aleppo, the Yellow Man hopes to be recognised in the Guinness World Records, something that has not happened yet because of the conflict. "I believe no one else in the world can wear yellow for 35 years, day and night, indoors and outdoors," he said.

But having such a high profile has also come with a downside. Zakkour has been arrested repeatedly, and also said he's accused of being a member of ISIS and Al Qaeda, and an informer for Bashar Al Assad. In 2013, the Syrian Liberation Army were filmed beating and humiliating him. However, he remains undaunted.

"Wearing another colour would make me feel off-beat and strange because I have worn yellow for 35 years, and it's a long time. I cannot have a different colour within my yellow attire," he said.

It is telling that Zakkour chooses to dress in yellow. As a primary colour, it is the brightest shade on the spectrum and is the most vivid that the human eye can see, while it is also the first colour we notice. Yellow is associated with nature – think egg yolks, buttercups, bananas, canaries and daffodils – the warm glow of sunshine, and the hope of balmy summer days to come. It is a colour that evokes energy (which is the reason why so many sports drinks have yellow packaging), and is linked to feelings of optimism and happiness, so it is probably no coincidence that McDonalds opted to make its famous arches yellow.  

In Imperial China, yellow was considered the most prestigious colour, which is why emperors wore it, while Buddhists associate it with freedom from worldly cares and as the colour of heroism, unlike in the West, where yellow can denote cowardice.

Yellow is also thought to mimic the effect of sunlight on the body, or specifically to increase the production of serotonin, the so-called happy hormone. However, it is also a sign of danger, as is seen with the yellow stripes on bees, for example, which makes the Yellow Man's presence in a city all but destroyed by conflict quite poignant.

While Zakkour may be the only person in the world dressed in all yellow, he has a green-tinged counterpart in Brooklyn, New York. Dubbed the "Green Lady of Caroll Gardens", Elizabeth Rosenthal has worn shades of green, from lime to moss, for 20 years. With its inherent link to the natural world, the colour green triggers feelings of peace and contentment because of its low wavelengths, and looking at green provides a feeling of restfulness – which is why TV guests and stage performers wait in a green room before going on stage

In Britain, meanwhile, beauty therapist Charlotte Price cemented her devotion to the colour pink in 2011 by legally changing her name to Pink Sparkly And All Things Nice, while in America there is singer Kitten Kay Sera, who is known as the Pink Lady of Holly­wood. A resident of Los Angeles, she claims to have worn the colour ­continuously for 15 years, and she is also rumoured to dye her pet dog with beetroot juice to match her look.

Of course, in fashion circles, the unofficial uniform is head-to-toe black, presumably for ease and to avoid faux pas, while in psychological terms black denotes prestige, power and intelligence – which is why most graduates wear black robs when they receive their degrees.