Purple is a precious colour associated with regal luxury because whilst fairly abundant in nature purple was for many milennia a difficult colour to produce in paint or dye.
The first purple pigment was Tyrian purple, a dyestuff produced by the Phonecians in the city of Tyre. This was around 2000 years ago, i think (will check - futher info welcomed). Tyre was the great port of Phonecia, (modern Lebanon) a trading nation with outposts all across the known world. Tyrian purple was produced from the shells of the concholepas mollusk "Chanque," and a thier purple pigment was a highly prized export. The dye gave a rich and deep purple that was highly prized, and highly priced.
In medieval times, purple was a colour reserved for the powerful and wealthy - kings, queens and bishops wore a lot of purple, whilst commoners had to make do with mucky grey and poo brown. Purple pigment was still made from Mollusc shells, and mixing purple paint required the artist or dyer to obtain vermillion (red) and ultramarine (blue) - which were also rare and very expensive.
So purple was reserved for the powerful, with only blue and gold paint valued more highly, (these were the traditional dominant colours of the madonna's robe, and the golden holy halos. the bystanding kings wore purple, as do monarchs and senior religious figures today.)
It wasn't until 1856 that purple dye was synthesised, and could be cheaply produced. William Henry Perkins was trying to synthesise quinine, (a medicine for malaria) and accidentally produced the first chemical pigment. It happened to be purple, because purple is the bestest colour.
At just 19 years old, Perkins left the Royal College of Chemistry to commercialise his invention, and developed the new industry of synthetic dyes (he went on to develop colours other than purple). He and other UK entrepeneurs initially dominated the market, but by the 1870s chemical syestuffs were being produced and sold in greater numbers by German companies.
Edwardian fashions of the period were often in dull colours and blacks. Queen Victoria's long mourning put Britain into a gloomy darkness, and revolution, pollution and opression were reflected in the decades long trend for black.
But the new artificial pigments were gaining ground, and by the 1920s fashion designers like Paul Poiret (influenced by the bright costumes of the Russian Ballet) were introducing vivid colour into ladies fashions. Mass production and the growth of ready made fashions, along with cheap synthetic dyes meant that purple clothing was finally becoming available to all. Sadly, during the 1930s dusty grey sackcloth and ashes dominated the fashion scene, followed by khaki uniforms in the early forties.
During the sixties, purple was a very groovy colour and "purple haze" a popular state of mind. In the seventies, purple and green swirls were considered a delightful furnishing fabric. Prince was probably the most prominant purple person in the 1980s, and purple and silver were all over millenium shop windows.
Purple is a very bright and jolly colour, with a tonal range from lilac to mauve, indigo to magenta, and hundreds of shades in between. Clint Boon, the excellent hammond organist, ex of the inspiral carpets, sings "problem with the world today, not enough purple too much grey" and who can disagree with an organist with a pudding bowl haircut and purple cordorouy flares?