Before the start of every year, Pantone, the authority on colour-intelligence, reveals its prediction for the Colour of the Year. As of last month, Living Coral has earned the title for 2019. This warm, peach shade draws on earthy tones whilst maintaining a sunny intensity, making it a versatile one to represent a range of contexts.
On on hand, the earthy quality of this colour relates to the growing concern of climate change and pollution. The orange tones vividly recall their namesake: the coral reefs that are valued for their vibrant hues, all the more so now as bleaching and climate change become an inescapable reality. Living Coral optimistically relates to a need to reconnect with the natural world, and to emulate this in our lifestyles. On the other hand, the warm, sunny quality of this colour is particularly noteworthy at a time when technology and ‘social’ media is driving rifts through communities. Pantone’s Executive Director, Leatrice Eiseman, states: ‘with consumers craving human interaction and social connection, the humanising and heartening qualities displayed by the connival Pantone Living Coral hit a responsive chord.’
This is quite a development from the mood approaching 2018. The 2018 Colour of the Year was declared to be Ultra Violet, a bright electric purple that, as stated by Pantone, ‘communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us toward the future.’ The violet hues were representative of modernity, and an era of innovation and ingenuity driven by technology. Purple has long been an important symbol for counter-cultural icons, with Jimi Hendrix, Prince, and Bowie being its key promoters. In 2018, this electric shade was brought to the fore by Tokyo’s youth. The shade was embraced for its gender-neutrality and futuristic hues, with Shinjuku and Harajuku-goers soon sporting the bright colour in alternative, androgynous silhouettes. Spreading out beyond Asia, from Hamish Bowles’ stunning ultra violet walls to the S/S18 collections of Gucci and Balenciaga, the shade has been a key one for all elements of design this year.
Reaching beyond design, these colours also infiltrated everyday life on a microcosmic level. Purple began re-colouring the food scene. Speared by the trend of clean-eating and Instagram-hyped colourful food, ingredients such as purple ube, taro, purple cauliflower, beetroot and anthocyanin-rich purple tea have been making appearances across healthy-eating cafes and restaurants.
All these examples go as far to acknowledge the accuracy of Pantone’s forecast. Given the almost monopoloid hold Pantone has over colour intelligence, the colour of the year may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet the colour of the year is more than a guiding forecast; it is through the careful mapping of macro and micro trends that current moods and atmospheres are translated into a visual form.
Our intuitive awareness of colour symbolism allows it to be a useful tool in expression. This dates back throughout history, when rich lapis-lazuli dyes were used exclusively for the highly-esteemed and royal. Meanwhile, the instantly recognisable ‘On Wednesdays we wear pink’ quote shines a spotlight on the subtle associations that can be evoked simply through colour choice. In the renowned TV show Breaking Bad, character development can be tracked in the colours they wear. As Walter White becomes further embroiled with his alter-ego, Heisenberg, his colors become stronger, moving from initial shades of neutral green towards red and eventually black. When faced with defeat or the return of his cancer, his khaki shades return.
Colour is more than a fashion statement, and has always played as much a role in shaping cultural and political identities as it has in personal identity. The clashing, angry red and blues of the Republican and Democrat battle in the US are but one example. The World Cup last summer saw people taking to the streets in proud display of their national colours. The Pride movement’s flag, meanwhile, proves that colours aren’t necessarily a means of reinforcing divides: the flag cleverly plays on the ideological divides denoted by different colours, including and representing all shades in a brilliant rainbow display.
It’s still too soon to tell what role Living Coral will play this year. A keen eye may notice its increasingly frequent appearances on the catwalk. Marc Jacobs led the charge with a collection dominated by pastel hues, featuring wearable coral and blush-toned looks. Meanwhile, Brandon Maxwell combines structured tailoring with the fiery coral shade in his collection of flared trousers and shirt-dresses. Within days of Pantone’s announcement, interior design and fashion magazines were publishing articles on how to prepare for the soon-to-be trend. On a superficial level, the significance of the colour of the year may simply be the need to jump on these bandwagons. But the wider symbolism of this shade and the reasons behind Pantone’s choice make colour a powerful tool for participating in and being aware of the social climate.