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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Explained: Symbolism behind the 2021 Pantone colour(s)

The company had its origins as a simple commercial printing company in the 1950s in New Jersey in the US, owned by the brothers Mervin and Jesse Levine.

Written by Ektaa Malik , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 23, 2020 12:25:06 pm
This is the second time in the history that the institution is choosing two colours at once. (Photo: Pantone/ Instagram, Designed by Gargi Singh)

Every year design and trend forecasters eagerly await for the colour of the year that’s announced by Pantone LLC, the company best known for Pantone machine system. This year, they have broken tradition once again and have revealed two ‘colours of the year’, instead of one. The colours are PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating. A shade of grey and a shade of yellow respectively.

The company had its origins as a simple commercial printing company in the 1950s in New Jersey in the US, owned by the brothers Mervin and Jesse Levine. Things speeded up in the right direction when the advertising executives got Lawrence Herbert — a Hofstra University graduate with impeccable knowledge of chemistry — on board as a part-time employee. Herbert, with his skill as a chemist, simplified and systematised the company’s huge arsenal of pigments and eased the production of coloured inks. In 1962, Herbert bought over the ink and printing division and renamed the company Pantone, which is how it’s even known today. Herbert’s knowledge of colour and pigments and the resultant standardisation made sure that the colours did change their tints and hues under sunlight and other changing physical circumstances. That’s how everyone in the world knows what’s the Coca-Cola red — originally Pantone 484, and how Starbucks has its statement pine green – the Pantone 3298.

In 1963, the company introduced the Pantone Matching System (PMS), which is, simply put, a standardised colour reproduction system. The most well-known product of Pantone are the Pantone Guides, which are essentially thin cardboard sheets approximately 6×2 inches or 15×5 cm and are printed on one side. The sheets contain a series of related colour swatches and are bound into a small fan deck. A particular sheet might contain chips of varying shades or hues of yellow, which can be identified with a particular number. The idea behind the PMS was to allow designers to ‘colour match’ specific tints and hues, especially when a design entered the production phase. The system over the decades became the norm to be sworn by, as graphic designers, printing houses adopted it wholeheartedly.

The colour chips went on to become synonymous with colours in the fashion world, and also that of interior design, especially after Pantone placed the chip on a series of ads during the New York Fashion Week in the early 2000s. Over time, those chips became a pop culture phenomenon. We see the iconic chip being reproduced on mugs, posters, stationery and posters.

The chip was seen on buses, convention centres, everywhere possible. A Pantone-themed hotel in Brussels, a cafe in Monaco that pops up with food that’s served by colour, the application and usages of the Pantone chip range from cute, quirky to the bizarre. There’s even Pantone-licensed underwear available in Japan and a line of colour coded scrubs worn by hospital workers. The sheer popularity of the Pantone chip and PMS has also led to it being memed, GIFed and also parodied. Many Instagrammers have used the Pantone grid template and have their fun with it. A French design studio, Chic & Artistic, replaced the usage of colours in popular songs with the Pantone chips. Elvis’s famous song from 1956 became ‘Pantone 299C Suede Shoes’ — referring to the hummable number Blue Suede Shoes. An Instagram project called Pantone Smoothies replaces the chip grid and its shades of colour with the makings of a smoothie.

The Color of the Year

In 2000, Pantone and the Pantone Color Institute started announcing the ‘color of the year’. The first-ever ‘colour of the year’ was Cerulean Blue 15-4020. The colour of the year is chosen after a secret meeting held in an undisclosed European capital. The meeting has representatives from the colour standard groups of many countries, and the colour is chosen for the following year. The colour of 2013 was picked in the spring of 2012 in London. The colour is picked after much deliberation and it often, supposedly, connects and reflects the happenings and mood of the current times. Often, the choice of the colour of the year sparks a debate, with many decrying the choice. Last year, Classic Blue, Pantone 19-4052 was picked, and many accused Pantone of playing it safe. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

Not the first time with two colours

Adding to the reigning sentiment of 2020 — bewilderment and confusion — Pantone revealed two colours as the ‘colours of the year’, a shade of grey and one of yellow. The grey colour is the one which we associate with liquid cement, or a dove.

The yellow is the one which we identify sunshine with, or canaries. The official statement from Pantone, elaboration the choice of two shades said, : “Pantone 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and Pantone 13-0647 Illuminating, as the Pantone Color of the Year selection for 2021, two independent colors that come together to create an aspirational color pairing, conjoining deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the optimistic promise of a sunshine-filled day.”

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, added: “The selection of two independent colours highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one colour or one person, it’s about more than one. The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock-solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a colour combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit.”

This is the second time that Pantone chose two ‘color of the year’. In 2016, we had Pantone 15-3919 Serenity and Pantone 13-1520 Rose Quartz (2016), shades of pale blue and pale pink respectively.

Global impact

Pantone and by proxy the Pantone Color Institute have become the dominant trend forecaster in the world of art, design, architecture and fashion. The impact is such that many countries and states have adopted the particular Pantone shade and number for their flags, straight out of the PMS. In 2003, Scotland had a raging debate in their Parliament regarding a petition which called to refer to the blue in the Scottish flag as the Pantone 300. Canada and South Korea invoke the specific Pantone colours when producing the particular colour of their national flags. Texas also has a legislated PMS colour for its state flag. The trend prediction and usages for this year’s colours can be found on the official website.

Though the Internet is already flooded with memes and gifs surrounding the two colours. The most popular one is the bright yellow serving as a dividing strip on the grey of a tarred road.

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