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40 years of color
Pantone looks back at four decades of color and
culture on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.

It reflects the influences of world events, politics, art, media, fashion and music. From the avocado and harvest gold of the '70s to the pink that echoes today's hopes for a rosier world, color punctuates our memories and scores our emotional lives.

For 40 years, Pantone, Inc. has been recognized as the global authority on color. Clients the likes of Apple, IBM, Mattel, Nike, Pottery Barn, Liz Claiborne, Whirlpool and KitchenAid rely on Pantone's color prophecies to make million-dollar product development decisions.

The Pantone Color Institute® tracks color trends and produces semiannual forecasts for fashion and home. Here, Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Institute, recounts the major color trends of the last four decades, along with the cultural influences that impacted them.


Youth culture erupted in the '60s, and sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll were the (dis)order of the day. From Swinging London to Haight-Ashbury, Mod to Mondrian, and Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin, music and psychedelic drugs turned people onto color. Timothy Leary influenced the fashion scene as much as Mary Quant. Fashion models and photographers were becoming as important as designers, and Twiggy emerged as the face of 1966.


The recession of the 1970s brought a retreat into safe, sober earth colors, and the dreaded "A" word of both fashion and interior designers -avocado- had the American consumer in a full nelson, especially in the kitchen. African-Americans became more aware of their heritage and adopted native African patterns and colors, which were, again, earth tones. Disco was crowned king, and in the fashion world, no one was hotter than Halston, with his luxurious Ultrasuede® pantsuits and decadent Studio 54 lifestyle.


The economic upturn of the '80s heralded a return to vibrant color. Christian Lacroix and Jean-Paul Gaultier's extravagant fashion cacophonies validated flamboyant color at the highest taste level, and women flooded the workforce with glamour, sporting big Dynasty-inspired shoulders and hair.

With the advent of MTV, kids saw and mimicked what pop stars like Michael Jackson and Madonna were wearing. Following Brooke Shields's provocative commercial for Calvin Klein jeans, supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista emerged as the seraphim of fashion. Nancy Reagan's signature red became popular, later giving way to Barbara Bush blue. Toward the end of the decade, Giorgio Armani's sophisticated neutrals provided Yuppies with a quieter alternative to all-out glitz.

Meanwhile, in the home, designers flipped the color chart for consumers who had OD'd on avocado and spice tones, and America became mad for mauve.


The economic downturn at the end of the '80s became an opening for the dirtied colors of Seattle's "grunge" movement in the early 1990s. In the middle of the decade, the digital revolution with its promise of outrageous amounts of money was reflected in the eye-popping colors of the iMac®. Urban street styles, body piercing and tattooing became mainstream among young culture. Green, a color that became important with the environmental movement of the '60s, hit its vibrant zenith in the '90s with lime green and chartreuse.

Minimalism became a strong influence at the end of the '90s, as evidenced by Jil Sander's fashions and Calvin Klein's Zen-influenced home collections. As the dotcoms began to crumble and the Millennium Bug threatened, people were feeling the need to stop and escape. Spas boomed and designer water abounded. These influences led Pantone to pronounce Cerulean Blue, the color of sea and sky, "the Color of the Millennium."


The minimalist influence continued into the new century. Today, big ticket items have retreated into neutral or deeper colors, but it is the perfect time to bring touches of color into the home with accessories and small appliances, allowing consumers to enjoy color without spending a great deal. Yet neutral does not equal boring - all grays, beiges and taupes are not created equal, and even white has hundreds of subtle variations.

Eiseman is the author of Colors for Your Every Mood and the PANTONE Guide to Communicating Color, as well as The Color Answer Book (Capital Books), due out in the fall.

Fig. 1:
PANTONE 17-1937 Hot Pink
PANTONE 16-1362 Vermillion Orange
PANTONE 15-6437 Grass Green
PANTONE 13-0859 Lemon Chrome
PANTONE 16-4529 Cyan Blue

Fig. 2:
PANTONE 18-0430 Avocado
PANTONE 17-1544 Burnt Sienna
PANTONE 19-1116 Carafe
PANTONE 16-0948 Harvest Gold
PANTONE 18-1248 Rust

Fig. 3:
PANTONE 14-1122 Sheepskin
PANTONE 16-1431 Canyon Clay
PANTONE 14-3907 Thistle
PANTONE 19-1663 Ribbon Red
PANTONE 19-3955 Royal Blue

Fig. 4:
PANTONE 14-0105 Overcast
PANTONE 17-1118 Lead Gray
PANTONE 14-0445 Bright Chartreuse
PANTONE 13-0752 Lemon
PANTONE 16-1452 Firecracker
PANTONE 16-4725 Scuba Blue

Fig. 5:
PANTONE 15-4020 Cerulean
PANTONE 12-0713 Almond Oil
PANTONE 14-4002 Wind Chime
PANTONE 16-3911 Lavender Aura
PANTONE 16-1010 Incense
PANTONE 16-6008 Seagrass

PANTONE® and other Pantone, Inc. trademarks are the property of Pantone Inc. © Pantone, Inc., 2003. All rights reserved. iMac is a registered trademark of Apple.

 
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