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New Year, New Blue

Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night Over the Rhone,"

By Cameron Walker

Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2020 is Classic Blue (PANTONE 19-4052) — a rich, saturated shade redolent of the sky at dusk or deep pools of undisturbed water. The hue harks back to its first Color of the Year, 2000’s Cerulean Blue (PANTONE 15-4020 TC, which the company described as “the color of the sky on a serene, crystal clear day”), chosen to help calm global feelings of instability and unease as Y2K approached. At the dawn of a new decade, in a similarly liminal time, people may seek comfort in the familiar. 

Pantone's Color of the Year 2020- Classic Blue (19-4052)

“We are living in a time that requires trust and faith. It is this kind of constancy and confidence that is expressed by PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue, a solid and dependable blue hue we can always rely on,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “Imbued with a deep resonance, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue provides an anchoring foundation. A boundless blue evocative of the vast and infinite evening sky, [it] encourages us to look beyond the obvious to expand our thinking; challenging us to think more deeply, increase our perspective and open the flow of communication.” 

Blue is often described as non aggressive, calming and relaxing. Studies have shown that blue is the world’s most favored color; although we are divided on many issues, we can at least agree we like blue. Classic Blue — the shade of the blue field* beneath the American flag’s 50 white stars — is both timeless and forward-looking, and is meant to inspire optimism on the cusp of a new decade, this century’s Roaring Twenties.

“The Pantone Color of the Year highlights the relationship between trends in color and what is taking place in our global culture at a moment in time, a color that reflects what individuals feel they need that color can hope to answer,” said Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute. “As society continues to recognize color as a critical form of communication, and a way to express and affect ideas and emotions, designers and brands should feel inspired to use color to engage and connect. The Pantone Color of the Year selection provides strategic direction for the world of trend and design, reflecting the Pantone Color Institute’s year-round work doing the same for designers and brands.”

When Pantone chemist Lawrence Herbert bought the company he worked for in 1962, the small business manufactured color cards for cosmetics companies. Herbert developed the first color matching system in 1963 with 10 standardized solid colors (compared to 2,678 currently), turning Pantone into the color authority we know today. The Pantone Matching System®, according to the company, is “an innovative tool allowing for the faithful selection, articulation and reproduction of consistent, accurate color anywhere in the world. [It] organizes color standards through a proprietary numbering system and chip format, which have since become iconic to the Pantone brand.” Their system is used in fields such as textiles, apparel, interior design, architecture, graphic design and industrial design to choose product and branding colors and ensure their selected colors can be accurately reproduced.

For example, fine jewelry company Tiffany & Co. approached Pantone in 2001 to standardize their distinctive shade of robin’s egg blue, “1837 Blue.” Founder Charles Lewis Tiffany chose the blue shade for the cover of Blue Book, an annual catalog of the jewelry house’s offerings, first published in 1845. The hue is trademarked, meaning no other company in the same industry can use the shade. Other trademarked colors include Mattel Barbie Pink (Pantone 219C), Cadbury Purple (Pantone 2685C ), UPS Brown (Pantone 0607298) and John Deere Green (Pantone 364C) and Yellow (Pantone 109C). 

How does Pantone choose from myriad hues to select its Color of the Year? The process is a little murky, but so is trend forecasting in general. Each spring, the 20-person Pantone Color Institute starts researching the next year’s Color of the Year (announced each December), drawing from street art, fashion runways, films, museum exhibits, trade shows and more to choose a hue that is at the same time a reflection of the moment and a prescription for the near future — essentially, both mirror and oracle for the color of the moment.

As we step into 2020, expect to see Classic Blue all over — from designer clothing, accessories and interior decor to makeup, home appliances and even food. Like Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Yves Klein before us, our world of color is entering its blue period.

*Almost. American flag blue is technically the similar shade of Pantone 282 C 

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