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The story behind Pantone's “Color of the Year”

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Pantone has just announced 18-3838 Ultra Violet as 2018’s Color of the Year. This begs three questions. Who is Pantone, what color, exactly, is Ultra Violet, and how can such a wild color be used in home decor? Pantone is an American corporation founded by Lawrence Herbert in 1962 and headquartered in New Jersey. As a new college graduate, Herbert had been hired by brothers, Melvin and Jesse Levine, partners in the commercial printing company, M and J Levine Advertising, in New York City. Herbert’s background in chemistry had allowed him to systematize and simplify the company's stock of pigments and production of colored inks. Long story short, by 1962, Herbert was running the ink and printing division at a profit, while the commercial-display division was $50,000 in debt. That year, he purchased the company's technological assets from the Levine Brothers and formed his company, Pantone.

Pantone is known for The Pantone Color Matching System which standardizes color reproduction. This standardization allows different manufacturers in different locations to make sure colors match without direct contact with one another.

Since 2000, Pantone has also been known for declaring the "Color of the Year". Twice a year, the company hosts a secret meeting in a European capital. The attendees are representatives from various nations' color standards groups. After two days of presentations and debate, they choose a color for the following year. What are they debating? The chosen color is meant to connect to the mood in the world at that given time. For example, the press release declaring “Honeysuckle” the color of 2011 stated, "In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits. Honeysuckle is a captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues."

The results of the meeting are published in the book, Pantone View. For the purchase price of $450, this book helps advertising agencies, fashion designers, interior designers, florists, and other consumer-oriented companies plan for future products. In 2012, Tangerine Tango was the color of the year and was used to create a makeup line in partnership with Sephora, the French chain of cosmetic stores. The product line featured Tangerine Tango in embellished false eyelashes, nail lacquers, glitters, lipsticks and glosses.

Pantone’s 18-3838 Ultra Violet is a blue-based purple. Not deeply intense and not pastel. Think of it as blending the petals of a purple iris. It’s a pretty color but will homeowners apply it to their décor? Michael Murphy, trends and interior design producer at Lamps Plus, thinks so, “There’s a sense of optimism and confidence in this color.”

Celebrity interior designer, Mark Cutler, said he was not surprised by the color choice, “From the home décor perspective, we have been waiting for the arrival of this color. It gives an immediate sense of luxury, strength and grounding. Also, it is surprisingly versatile, in fact, it’s almost a neutral. Pair it with whites for a graphic look, greys for a cool moody look or reds and yellows for a rich jewel tone explosion.”

I would add to Cutler’s suggestion a note about metals as they can drastically change the feeling of a room. Gold, brass or yellow-toned bronze, paired with purple, create a more formal look than cool-toned metals. But if not used with caution, this pairing could tip into Las Vegas glitzy. A shiny finish such as polished chrome or stainless steel will project a modern, almost industrial, look. If you’re somewhere in the middle, brushed or burnished nickel, natural iron, or any matte, grey metal are good options. The purple color, itself, makes a strong statement. Let the metals and other decorative furnishings and details play supporting roles.

If you like Pantone’s Ultra Violet, you may be wondering how to use it. It doesn’t take much courage to assemble purple accessories and a purple chair or two. Even so, to make this color count in such a scenario, there should only be one other major color in the room. Any other colors would come from fixed surfaces like the floor, fireplace, and cabinets. If you have too many colors, you’ll lose your purple impact.

If you are daring and adventurous and want to use Ultra Violet in a bigger way, how do you do it? Start by painting your walls a shade or two lighter or darker than Ultra Violet. Dark walls will not make your room seem smaller. Instead, the darkness and depth will make your walls recede. Next, choose a wall to cover with wallpaper. The paper should have a purple pattern in the style you want to create. You can go bold and contemporary with geometric graphics or traditional with florals, for example. If you have an architectural feature in the space such as a fireplace, that may be the best wall to choose. If you don’t use wallpaper, then use a purple patterned fabric for tall drapery panels. Or, mount an over-sized piece of art on the wall. The point is, break up the dark, purple walls with something complimentary but significant.

If the walls are dark, choose upholstery in a few purple shades lighter. Pick a color from your wallpaper or draperies and find fabric in that color to cover an accent piece like an ottoman or side chair. A large rug, filled with all the colors you’ve used in the room, will tie the space together.

You may be thinking all this purple will be too loud, too busy, too dark. But, if done right, it can be sophisticated, comfortable, and calm. I say “calm” because, throughout history, cultures have attached a mystical or spiritual quality to this color, an inward mindfulness. Today, we can think of this soulful, color as a refuge from an over-stimulated world.

Give 18-3838 Ultra Violet some thought as you design and decorate in 2018. At the very least, pick up a bunch of optimistic, confident, luxurious, regal, and mystical purple irises this Spring.

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