Today Pantone announced its Colour of the Year for 2016. In 2014 this was the much-shared Radiant Orchid; this year it was Marsala, a plummy-brown which you will have noticed especially in the beauty sector.
For the first time ever Pantone’s Colour of the Year isn’t one shade, but a gradient of two: a dusky pastel pink called Rose Quartz and a pale pastel blue, Serenity.
As someone interested in the big movements behind trend-spotting and colour prediction, here are my top four messages gleaned from Pantone’s choice.
1. It’s made for digital influencers and content creators
This isn’t mentioned in Pantone’s reasoning, but Rose Quartz & Serenity is a colour made for the latest generation of digital influencers and content creators. The gradient echoes a natural colour combination you’ll see at sunset or dawn, making it an ideal application in visual social media – photo-editing app Aviary have already released two Pantone filters and Pixlr already has a range of pink-blue gradient filters and overlays.
These shades are also a mainstay of lifestyle and fashion blog design, Pinterest accounts and Instagram images. So while the combination may be radical for Pantone, the execution is already happening: recent trends of pastel, ombre hair, the popularity of soft-hued kawaii Facebook stickers like Pusheen, the slew of inspirational Pinterest quotes.
That’s how colour prediction works – by scoping what’s happening and making a judgement on what’s next – but in this instance the transition from conceptual Colour of the Year to actual colour of the year, used across multiple channels and spearheaded by digital influencers, will be quicker than ever. And hey, Rose Quartz? The title sounds like a blogger’s dream: the Michael Kors Rose Gold watch + borax crystal quartz DIY.
2. It’s about wellness, not gender
The natural mega trend to extrapolate from the Rose Quartz & Serenity pairing would be the blurring of gender divisions in many countries across the world; the gradient represents, perhaps, the change in perception of gender roles and a more fluid approach to colour expression.
However, Laurie Pressman, VP of the Pantone Colour Institute, in a webinar on the Colour of the Year, was sure to explain that wellness was the main driver behind this selection, not gender. She mentioned that consumers and creators are taking “a more unilateral approach to colour” when it comes to gender, but the drive for wellbeing and “the need for reassurance…a desire to quiet our minds” was more important.
Pressman argued that the Colour of the Year “embodies the mindset of tranquility and peace consumers seem to be looking for”:
[Rose Quartz] is warm and embracing…[Serenity] is weightless and airy…they give comfort in turbulent times…[They are] feel good, comforting shades.
Pastel shades are more likely to have a calming effect on us partly for cultural reasons but also because they are desaturated – they don’t have a strong pigmentation so are ‘easy on the eye’. So while Rose Quartz & Serenity might happily tap into movements in gender identity and fluidity, the colour is more a reflection of the desire for “tranquility and peace” evident in consumer habits.
3. It’s not artificial, but it feels like it
This pink-blue gradient does occur naturally; during sunset and sunrise the sun’s rays and the darker night sky merge to form unusual colour pairings. However, taken separately – and even the artifical gradient of Rose Quartz & Serenity seen on screen – the colours feel very artificial.
These don’t feel like naturally occurring colours. They’re too sugary, a little bit cool, a bit more like sugared almonds at a wedding than their natural counterparts. It’s likely these shades would appear in certain flowers and weather patterns, but to me the immediate reminder was of Germolene and a particularly unflattering bridesmaid’s dress I once wore.
Maybe these plasticky colours are meant to reflect an emerging technology in homewares and fashion – the rise of 3D printed objects made out of plastics. Or maybe it’s all about my final point…
4. It’s naive – which makes us feel better
As Time points out, these are “conventional baby colours”. And their position as baby colours means they have a clear, almost subconscious effect on us; they soothe and calm us because when we were too small to remember, they did the same job.
In her webinar, Pressman noted that it wasn’t until after WWII that pink and blue really came to be gender signifiers, especially for babies and children. She also noted that the baby boomer generation – those born after WWII – is a key driver in the wellness movement. So a big (and rich) consumer group who wants to feel calm and tranquil now is very likely to have felt calm and tranquil with these same colours as children.
Pressman explained that “these shades have the ability to transform us into a world of play…a way to escape” – in the same way that naivety and innocence give us an opportunity to remove ourselves from the ‘real’ world. The shades of Rose Quartz and Serenity are typical baby colours, so is this about being swaddled and coddled, protected from reality?
The infantilisation of lifestyles is an interesting concept and it could be that Rose Quartz & Serenity is playing straight into it. While it could be argued it’s working with gender fluidity, it could easily be seen as a way to determine men, women and any gendered people as fragile beings rather than strong agents of their own destiny. Could this be a step backward, for women in particular?
I think with all the craziness in the world, aside from soft we’re looking for pretty.
Pantone’s excellent webinar traced some of the background of pink, from it’s gender neutrality pre-WWII to Elsa Schiaparelli’s “shocking pink” to the ‘protest pink’ used by those pushing against outdated gender values. My thought on pink’s history? To now have baby pink and baby blue as next year’s colour when we’ve seen the rise of a pink so bold it started to be a political message feels a bit disappointing.
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