Slated to be the new year's "it" color: Living Coral. It is the 2019 "Color of the Year." This salmon-y shade - along with an array of other hues introduced this year - has always existed, but now they are official, numbered, categorized, and available for purchase from Pantone, a small company in Carlstadt, N.J., that literally snatches its products out of the air (and the sea).
Headquartered about an hour outside of Manhattan in Carlstadt, New Jersey, Pantone quite literally categorizes color and sells it. Founded in the 1950s, the company is best known for its Pantone Matching System, a proprietary standardization guide on all things color that is used in a variety of industries, including fashion.
Each year since 2000, “the global authority on color” names its Color of the Year: Greenery for 2017, Rose Quartz and Serenity (2016), Marsala (2015), Radiant Orchid (2014), Emerald (2013), Tangerine Tango (2012), Honeysuckle (2011), Turquoise (2010), Mimosa (2009), Blue Iris (2008), Chili Pepper (2007), Sand Dollar (2006), Blue Turquoise (2005), Tigerlily (2004), Aqua Sky (2003), True Red (2002), Fuchsia Rose (2001), and Cerulean (2000).
The annual Color of the Year – which appears to be something of a marketing tool for the brand to sell its products – is made public by way of a press release from Pantone.
But far from offering one new color on an annual basis, Pantone releases a larger selection of new colors every one to two years. In March 2016, Pantone announced that it was “proudly introducing 112 new colors” to its existing system “to give designers a greater range of expression and freedom.” Before that, in 2014 and 2015, it added 84, and between 2012 and 2013, Pantone incorporated a whopping 336 new hues. And the list goes on.
Also in the mix: The seasonal color projections, such as those for Spring/Summer 2019 and the introduction of Living Coral.
Such colors are compiled into an array of Pantone products – such as its $805 “Color Specifier & Guide Set” or its $995 “Planner” for interior design – which are marketed to consumer-oriented brands. “Having the right colors to choose from is essential when making design decisions,” according to Pantone.
Much like the process of compiling “new” hues to add to its larger selection of new colors on a two-year basis, the practice of picking the Color of the Year is a time-consuming activity – and one that is shrouded in quite a bit of mystery.
The Color of the Year selection is “highly subjective,” as Pantone admits, and it is guarded intensely. As Mental Floss noted recently:
Twice a year, Pantone representatives sit down with a core group of between eight and 12 trend forecasters from all over the design world, an anonymous group of international color experts who work in product design or fashion, teach color theory at universities, or are associated with institutions like the British Fashion Council. They gather in a central location (often London) to talk about the colors that seem poised to take off in popularity, a relatively esoteric process that Pressman is hesitant to describe in concrete detail.
While the meetings are, of course, held behind closed doors, Tom Vanderbilt, writing for Slate, was granted entrance, “on the condition that [he] not reveal the colorists’ identities.” Vanderbilt was also “asked not to reveal [his] own identity as a journalist [during the color selection committee meeting],” which he described as “a high-concept show-and-tell fused with a cultural anthropology seminar.”
Instead, Vanderbilt says, “I [was] vaguely portrayed as a functionary of X-Rite, the corporate parent of Pantone.”
And the meetings go down something like this, per Mental Floss: “One of those [committee member] forecasters, chosen on a rotating basis, picks an abstract theme before each meeting to get the brainstorming started. For the planning session for Autumn/Winter 2018-2019 trends, the theme is “time.” Everyone draws up their own color forecasts inspired by this theme and brings four or five pages of images—kind of like a mood board—with relevant color combinations and palettes. Then they gather in a room with good light, and each person presents their version of where the world of color is heading.”
The selection stands to impact everything from the colors of the garments that go down the runway any given season to the hues that florists bank on for arrangements – in theory. As for whether color forecasting a la Pantone actually makes a difference on the runway or elsewhere, fashion seems convinced.
The annual initiative also proves an oft-seized opportunity for other brands to sell their own products or for the fashion media to draw conclusions as to its merit. As noted by the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman, “Pretty much just minutes after the announcement is made, my inbox is inundated with emails from brands and retailers promoting products available in the Color of the Year.”
Such pitches also come with side-by-side-by-side photos that coincide with articles detailing how the color has been used on the runway in recent seasons, suggesting that the Pantone Color of Year is, in fact, already reverberating in the world – fashion industry, included – before it is officially coined by Pantone and companies run with it thereafter.
The idea that Pantone is doing less of trend forecasting than dictating is not divorced from the discussion. As Mikel Cirkus, who heads the Conceptual Design Group at Firmenich, the flavor and fragrance company, told Slate in 2012, the proliferation of garments and accessories bearing Pantone’s “it” color after its grand reveal “is not a coincidence. It’s not even forecasting in my mind, it’s a dictating thing.”
And the selection committee knows this. One anonymous member told Vanderbilt, “We put seasons and dates on things. This color is for Summer 2013. People still need a direction … People always need confirmation. Even if you’re as strong as Zara, they need a start.”