Pantone's Colors of the Year are intended to reflect 'resilience and hope' for 2021. But the annual decision also has a trickle-down effect on everything from high fashion to iPhones.
- The color institute
Pantoneunveiled its annual Color of the Year this week. For 2021, there are two colors: illuminating, a bright yellow; and ultimate gray, a medium gray shade.
- The colors are intended to convey "a message of strength and hopefulness," Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said in a statement about the colors.
- But Pantone's Color of the Year serves another purpose: setting the tone for the
consumer productsindustry and kick-starting a trickle-down effect that can last for years.
- In 2000, for example, the inaugural Color of the Year was cerulean. That led to a famous scene in the 2006 film "The Devil Wears Prada" about how cerulean became popular in high fashion before trickling down to more affordable consumer products.
- The Color of the Year is present even in the technology industry: In two of the last three years,
Applehas released an iPhone— both times its more affordable, mass-market devices — in the exact same shade as Pantone's chosen color for that year.
It's nearly the end of an almost impossibly bleak year, which means it's time for a highly anticipated holiday. It's not Christmas, it's not Hanukkah or New Year's - it's Pantone's annual Color of the Year reveal.
This year, like in 2016, Pantone unveiled not one but two colors: illuminating, a bright, sunny yellow; and ultimate gray, which, as its name suggests, is a rather grim, run-of-the-mill gray. The reasoning behind the two shades, Pantone says, is to reflect both the solemnity of 2020 and the hope for a more promising future.
"The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it's not about one color or one person, it's about more than one," Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said in a statement about the colors.
"Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope," she said. "We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit."
But apart from serving as both a symbol of what we've endured in the preceding 12 months as well as a prediction for the future, Pantone's Color - or Colors - of the Year serve an entirely separate purpose: they set the tone for the consumer products industry and kickstart a trickle-down effect that can last for years.
The power of color
There's an iconic scene in the 2006 film "The Devil Wears Prada" that helps explain the color phenomenon. In the film, Anne Hathaway's character, Andy, quietly scoffs at two similar-looking turquoise belts someone had just described as being "so different."
Andy's reaction leads Meryl Streep's character, Miranda Priestly, to turn on her and unleash a seemingly calm yet undeniably eviscerating explanation of the power of the fashion industry and its trickle-down effect on consumer products.
To drive home her point, Priestly uses Andy's blue sweater as an example: it's not just blue, it's cerulean, and four years prior, designers Oscar de la Renta and Yves Saint Laurent had both used cerulean in their runway collections. The color then made its way through other designers' collections, into department stores, and finally into the average person's closet.
"That blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs," Priestly says.
What Priestly doesn't mention is that in December 1999, on the cusp of the new millennium, Pantone picked cerulean as its inaugural Color of the Year.
While Priestly and her speech are fictional - sort of - her point stands up in the real world. Pantone's annual color-picking fanfare is far from a frivolous exercise, but one that has financial impacts.
Take, for example, the iPhone. In September 2018, Apple unveiled its new batch of iPhones, which included, for the first time in several years, a cheaper alternative to Apple's luxury device. The $750 iPhone XR was intended to be a mass-market phone and it came in an array of candy colors, including coral.
Three months after it debuted, Pantone took the wraps off its Color of the Year for 2019: living coral, a vibrant pinkish-orange that was almost identical to the
Something similar happened this year, although Pantone beat Apple to the punch by nearly a year. In December 2019, the color institute proclaimed classic blue its color of 2020, a deep, "thought-provoking" shade of blue intended to usher us unto a new decade, much like cerulean did in 2000, and turquoise did in 2010.
Then, in October, Apple unveiled its new crop of iPhones, several of which are blue. Once again, its cheaper iPhones, the
This trend has played out time and time again over the years, like in 2016 when Pantone picked rose quartz as one to two Colors of the Year, just as a pale, salmon-tinged pink was coloring seemingly every millennial-helmed brand with venture-capital funding.
The shade was quickly nicknamed millennial pink and used by Thinx, Glossier, Everlane, The Wing - the list goes on, and on. (There was even, technically, a millennial pink iPhone, though it's known as rose gold.)
These Pantone-chosen colors inevitably end up in homes as accent walls, in films and TV shows, and in a range of consumer products: cookware, luggage, furniture, shoes, handbags, and, of course, clothing. Part of that proliferation is due to a number of agreements Pantone strikes each year with major companies like Adobe and the suitcase brand Away. As soon as the Color of the Year is announced, consumers are served matching jewelry, luggage, and even skateboards in Pantone's chosen color.
But that's not the whole reason these colors become a global phenomenon, or trickle down, as cerulean did, to a simple cable-knit women's sweater. Pantone essentially owns the US color industry, so its influence affects months' worth, and sometimes years' worth, of design decisions. Those choices are not made casually, either, since a product's color often dictates consumer perception - for example, a 2015 Color
So while not every Color of the Year is able to dictate the aesthetic of an entire generation's worth of businesses like that ubiquitous pale pink did four years ago, it's safe to say we'll likely be seeing this year's shades - illuminating and ultimate gray - for years to come.
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