Peter Som was among the designers surveyed for Pantone's Spring 2006 Color Report. He showed shades of blue from cloisonné to Wedgwood paired with matte golds and pale yellows.
Light is right in uneasy times
The trend toward muted colors reflects a need for stability, an expert says
Every season brings a new color palette, and it's that whiplash feeling of constant and unfathomable change that leads some to rebel against trends.
Well, can you stop the forces of nature?
Whether you're with spring's white and neutral trend or against it, you can't ignore the change as it ripples through society, affecting everything from apparel to advertising to films to home decor.
The changes are not simply a black-and-white matter.
"Rarely do you see a color go in or out per season or per year," said Lisa Herbert, executive vice president for Pantone, by phone from New York. The company has been recognized as the global authority on color for 40 years.
"What happens is you see changes in tonality, saturation, lightness," Herbert said. "In seasons past, there's been lots of clean bright color. What you're seeing now is a graying down of the palette. Colors are much more subtle, muted and dusty."
The Pantone Color Institute tracks color trends and produces forecasts for fashion and home twice a year to give clients as diverse as Apple, Mattel, Pottery Barn, Liz Claiborne and KitchenAid a heads-up on what's coming -- to save them from the catastrophe of creating an olive-drab product line when the rest of the world is showing red or blue.
In addition, Pantone surveys designers showing at New York Fashion Week each season and collects feedback on prominent collection colors, inspiration and philosophy to create the Pantone Fashion Color Report to help retail buyers and consumers with color decisions.
In a working climate in which survival is based on relevance, there's nothing that says "out of it" quicker than donning metallics and sparkles when the rest of the world has cleaned up its act, or putting forward a matte face when others have adapted to natural-looking minerals and dewy pastels.
Pantone's forecast was never meant to be the last word on color, but over time has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. With millions of dollars riding on a single decision as much as two years in advance of product introductions, Herbert is well aware of the forecast's impact.
"We touch so many creative industries and there's just so much pressure in industries to be right. They need someone out there with a single view on color, and that's what we do. We just report on what we're seeing and say, 'This is what it looks like.' "
Much of Pantone's point of view is the work of a nine-person consortium of American and European color and design specialists who meet twice a year to talk about color directions after talking to color gurus and designers in their own countries.
"The influences could be anything from new movies to museum and art exhibitions, and exotic travel," Herbert said. "I'm sure we've looked at Hawaii a few times. A lot of designers talk about their vacations; that's what they're inspired by.
"And of course we talk about economics and sociological feelings, how we're feeling about the world today. A lot of the neutrals we're seeing right now are here because we're feeling uneasy. Neutrals are very grounding and bring an element of stability into our lives.
"We also don't know where we're going. We don't see clearly. The prevalence of white right now is all about light taking us to a clearer vision. It represents a cleansing of the palette, starting new again. It sounds very spiritual, but there is an element of spirituality to it because that is what we seem to want in our lives."
Another element is high stress levels. Herbert said neutrals provide an antidote. "When people see whites and neutrals, they think, 'Fabulous, that's easy!' It's like living in the city and putting on a black suit. It's easy."