We’re going through one of those periodic big shifts in fashionable colors. IMO, the last really big one of those was at the end of the 80s, when blues went more cyan, reds lost most of their blue undertones, and yellow came back into the palette. They all looked good against black.
This new one seems to be related to the big khaki push of a few years back. There are a lot of dusty off-shade pastels: pink, peach, sage, taupe, cornflower, and a bunch of light to medium browns. Blues have gone grayer, grays bluer, reds more orange, and yellow’s either gold or greeny-bronze. Dark red’s a major accent color. Dark gray and very dark brown are in; black is out. Scariest news: burnt orange, avocado green, and harvest gold are fashionable again. New official cliche: Gray is the new black.
I’ve known people who think official color reassignments are a conspiracy theory. The short answer is that they are a conspiracy, but they aren’t theoretical. I submit as evidence the assigned colors for 2004, 2003 and 2002. And here are some recent specimens of the new range, to give you a better idea of what they look like when in use.
Who does this to us? An outfit, founded in 1962, called the Color Marketing Group. These are the people who wished avocado green and harvest gold kitchen appliances on America, and put the 1980s into those mauve-pink shades that looked so peculiarly horrible on so many of us.
Basically, the CMG is a trade organization, with 1,500 members drawn from a bunch of different industries. Twice a year they get together in Alexandria, VA, to come up with long-term and short-term color predictions. The long-term prediction is a set of sixteen colors that will be profitably marketable two years hence. That is, the 2003 palette was distributed to manufacturers in 2001. The short-term prediction is a palette of colors declared to be currently the thing.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nobody’s obliged to follow CMG’s lead; but a manufacturer who ignores them is likely to find that all his competitors’ products are in fashionably compatible colors, while his own clash.How do CMG members choose new colors? As someone explained in Slate back in 1998,
The official line is that they look at economic trends (pastels in bad times, saturated colors in good times) and also examine social trends. What this boils down to is six hundred people sitting around in small groups, trying to figure out the next big thing. Gray, for example, was chosen in part because of the craze for technology and space-age stuff as the millennium approaches: “People associate gray with futuristic things like silvery metallics and anodized aluminum,” a CMG spokeswoman said. And why blue? “Water is a big social issue, what with the current emphasis on designer water and water conservation.”Makes no sense at all, right? But CMG’s official explanation of the colors we’re supposed to want this year makes even less:
According to the CMG, color is becoming clear, therapeutic and nurturing, driven by a need for more white, lights and translucents. Though the palette is divided by industry, there are similarities and overlap between industries. Active consumers will purchase items with unexpected sophistication, including optimistic and genderless colors. By 2004, consumers are expected to break away from a period of fear and satisfy a pent-up demand for durable home products with brighter, sophisticated colors. Home fashion will focus on innocence, freshness and elegance. Communications/graphics colors will emphasize confidence. Transportation colors will be visually soft, and will unify interior and exterior colors. Fashion will use mid-tone hues to reflect a desire for comfort, security, solidity and spirituality.What’s all this blather really about? It’s selling; nothing more. If CMG were trying to describe trends, or even just lay down the law for manufacturers’ colors two years hence, they’d be specifying the exact shades by Pantone number. (Or perhaps not; Pantone has been trying to horn in on the color racket.) At minimum, they’d describe the colors in recognizable terms: chartreuse, taupe, golden yellow, rust, fawn, pale sage green, et cetera. Instead, we get a list where the two most recognizable color names are “vanilla” and “phthalo green”, and are left wondering what color “power punch” might be, and whether “giraffe” is the color of the hide or the markings. It’s the kind of overhyped marketing language that gets used to drum up desire where little or none exists.
“The 2004 Consumer Directions Palette includes rich reds, innocent pinks, therapeutic blues, soft greens and a jolting neon yellow,” says Color Directions Committee chairman Barbara Lazarow, CMG, Blonder Wallcoverings. “Special-effects-enhanced hues such as Cu, Glassy, Hyper Green, Acier, Aloeminium and Tusk offer consumers luminous and metallic options,” commented committee co-chairman Carol Byrne, Transportex Design & Marketing Company. “These directional colors, when teamed with current hues, offer consumers a full palette of color and texture.”
The 2004 Consumer Color Directions by industry are:
Crystal Sky-The energy of a brilliant blue sky, clean and clear as a summer day.
Grenache-Full-bodied and sophisticated, a fine wine at midnight.
Taos-Vegas and saddles influence this sun-drenched, earthy, baked adobe. Translates as high-tech metallic or eroded finish.
Moondance-A rhythmic choreography of warm-tinted white, as beige moves whiter, warmer and more comfortable.
Red Rush-An exciting flush, an adrenaline rush, powerful and genderless.
Power Punch-Fun and fantasy for all ages.
Hockney Blue-Escape to the tropics with this soothing and tranquil blue-green.
Soho Green-A fusion of bronze and gold creates this 21st century neutral, elemental and enduring.
Coppertunity-An opportunity for copper fresh from the mine to move into the home. It is optimistic and happy, flattering to skin tones.
Knew Blue-Who knew this blue would be new? Familiar and calm, the tranquil effect of aquatic blue on environmental greens.
Good Earth-Freshly tilled, an enriched new brown with Victorian roots, Mission influences, and Lodge appeal.
Coral Bells-A relaxing stroll through the garden-can you smell the coral bells?
Cu-It’s elementary. A precious metal with healing powers, shiny new or corroded over time.
Naughty But Nice-Don’t blush if YOU know Victoria’s little secret. A traditional twist on innocence and peace.
Glassy-Glass tints this transparent green; reflective, fresh and innocent.
Hope Blue-Heaven-sent, our hope for the future.
Hyper Green-Technology puts this virtually real green into overdrive.
Swim-Jump into blue, a splashy reflection of cyber youth, clean and pure, yet with natural complexity.
See-Fresh with an inner glow. Ethereal becomes believable.
Tickle-A happy red-tickle makes the whole word giggle.
Jolt-Brace yourself for this neon citrus.
Grow-Sprouting with a fresh green confidence.
Touch-Feel the love … baby, with the warmth of skin and body contact.
TRANSPORTATION AND RELATED
Tusk-Ivory influences aluminum reflecting the global warming of silver.
Acier-Sounds like French, but this steely gray is really from Pittsburgh, and has universal appeal. It is an expansion of the cool metals.
Aloeminium-The healing power of aloe combines with aluminum.
Mystic Quartz-A purple whisper adds mystery to silver; mature, technical and genderless.
Broadway Bronze-This dark and murky complex neutral is pulled from the streets of the concrete jungle.
Peace-A unifying global blue represents peace on earth.
FASHIONVanilla-Create your own sundae with this go-with-everything color.
Hortensia-This casual blue dresses up and goes to work.
Phthalo Green-Good luck! This scarab green will protect you.
Bijou Red-Ooh la la! At the Moulin Rouge, rubies are a girl’s best friend.
Giraffe-Stick your neck out and go for this Serengeti brown, inspired by copper, arts & crafts, and African block prints.
Nougat-Sticky sweet and so delicious. It’s blush with undertones of copper.
Are these newly fashionable shades soothing? You might think so, if you’re the sort of person who buys a new wardrobe every year, and has your house redecorated once or twice a decade. But if you’re the sort who budgets to buy new china one year, matching curtains the year after, and chair covers the year after that, or who invested in a costly but classic suit in what was at the time a very safe color, these arbitrary changeovers aren’t very damned soothing at all.
I knew what was up with the big khaki push. Remember that one? Ads everywhere saying “Hemingway wore khaki”? We’d all been wearing black for several years. We had black levis, good black skirts, black leather or denim jackets, little black dresses—a great installed user base of basic black clothing, plus the colored stuff we wore with it. I hadn’t heard anyone sighing for the return of khaki, and if I had, I’d have pointed them to one of the WASP mail-order catalogues. What’s the big deal with khaki? It gets dirty too easily, and for a lot of people it’s an unbecoming color. But there’s only so much new black clothing you can sell a happy consumer who already has a closet full of black-and-coordinates; so the clothing industry pushed khaki remorselessly.
Funny thing is, the last few years’ CMG colors go pretty well with khaki. Must be a trend or something.