Perms, Pot Noodles, Pigments and Pantone
Alan, our Senior Designer, considers what impact Pantone’s Colour of the Year announcement will have on us all in the material world.
You can offer but can you deliver? Henry Ford, launching the Model T Ford in 1909, offered the car to the public in ‘any colour as long as it’s black’. During the late 60s, the Rolling Stones rejected the colourful pop tunes of that decade, and demanded the scene to change, to ‘Paint it Black’. The early 70s music scene heralded a new vision, and Pink Floyd offered ‘Any Colour You Like’ as a rainbow spectrum of colour, cut like a diamond through the black, on the iconic cover artwork of The Dark Side of the Moon.
Now, think about this. In the second decade of the second millennium some demi-god of interior design has made you aware of a specific shade of thallium. You feel your study has been given the full ‘Auerbach’ treatment with this specific colour. What do you do? It’s an exclusive colour. For ‘them’ and not for ‘the rest of us’. Where can you purchase such a rare prize? Well now, there’s an answer to that question. Just go to your local DIY superstore with nothing more than a square torn from a glossy magazine or a picture on your phone of your desired colour, and in-store-hi-tech machines will create you a colour match. Well sort of. Have you ever had that ‘silver foil in the mouth’ experience of Pot Noodle flavours congealing in your mouth? That synthetic sludge of flavour passing slowly over your taste buds with names like Pulled Pork, Sticky Ribs and Sausage Casserole. They all taste vaguely the same and yet nothing like the flavours they claim to be. That taste experience is the emotional equivalent of the visual impact that viewing the results of those in-store paint mixes induces.
In a landscape of uncertainty and inaccuracy Pantone, in the 1960s, saw a need in the printing industry for a standard of colour referencing and reproduction accuracy. This resulted in the standard reference book found in most design agencies: The Pantone swatch book references. From its colour swatch book you can choose a myriad of colours, refer to a specific number when dealing with a printer and you can be sure that the colour produced will be the one you chose from the swatch book. This is especially useful in branding.
It’s with this in mind that I’m pondering the extent to which we, the public, are affected by Pantone’s annual announcement revealing its ‘Colour of the Year’. The best example I can give is this. At the weekend I was waiting, with a cloud of anticipointment* hanging over me, for a bus to arrive and deliver me to the DIY store on the other side of town. Once there I intended to get some paint samples for a much postponed decorating project I could no longer put off.
I was into the 20th minute of a bus non-arrival ordeal when, into my frame of vision, two elderly ladies bore down on the bus stop. They came from opposite directions and it wasn’t long before I recognised that a true cultural collision (in chemical terms) was about to happen. From the right, Elderly Lady One (specific identity: Rose Quartz Pantone 13-1520 & Serenity Pantone 15-3919) made her way slowly towards the bus departure zone. Her hair, a two-tone tale of Rose Quartz & Serenity. Pantone said of this mix “an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace”. Incredible and also very, very 2016 and she blooming well knew it! There was no ‘soothing’ or ‘peace’ as she recognised Elderly Lady Two (specific identity: Ultra Violet 18-3838 (aka Colour of the Year 2018)) steamrollering in from the opposite direction. In superhero terms this would have been her nemesis. Batman vs. Joker.
Superman’s reaction to Kryptonite. Sith vs. Jedi. Elderly Lady Two with her incredible wiry, hay bale of dyed Ultra Violet mesh, a glorious, towering monument to Marge Simpson. She was heralding 2018. Early renaissance artists often depicted the angels of the Lord wearing violet gowns. For the artists, the colour represented the ‘infinite’ which was not dangerous or threatening. This could not be said of the small, satisfied, rictus smile crossing the face of Elderly Lady Two. Dante described characters similar to her in the first Canto of The Divine Comedy. Victory and the future was hers. Boom and pow, 2016 was taken down.
That moment is still tingling in my mind as I’d not realised until that point that Pantone’s yearly choice had embedded itself so deeply in my local community and maybe even further afield. Eurovision Song Contest, Children in Need, government elections…any elections, none of those can hold a brush against the Pantone ‘Colour of the Year’.
*A feeling of high anticipation followed by crushing disappointment.