The Wonderful World of Color
HERE ARE GROUPS of people today who make much ado about color. Not for the purpose of fighting social injustices, but for the pleasure of dressing up for social events. Every year, those on the pulse of fashion stand with bated breath to learn what colors are hot and which are not. As can well be seen by retailers’ stock, this spring, fashion designers have opted for “surprising neutrals with innovative splashes of corals, yellows and purples to create a spring in bloom” [www.fashiontrendsetter.com].
Just who decides these things? Apparently, Cincinnati, Ohio-based Color Marketing Group (CMG) is one in an elite group of professionals that does. Sans the use of crystal balls, rabbits’ feet or potions containing ingredients too difficult to pronounce does CMG ‘predict’ color’s future from year to year. In fact, CMG’s revelations can be as obvious as the sky is blue.
Each year, CMG, a 45-year-old not-for-profit international association comprised of 1,000 color designers “involved in the use of color as it applies to the profitable marketing of goods and services,” plays host to a major conference to decide the coming year’s Consumer and Contract Color Directions Forecasts, according to John Bredenfoerder, CMG’s president. The forecasts are developed through the collaborative efforts of approximately 400 of CMG’s members. In advance of the conference, each member prepares his or her own Color Directions Forecast. During the conference, comprised of a variety of color and design workshops, each workshop “develops a Color Directions Forecast, which then goes to a Steering Committee. There, the process is repeated, until a general consensus forecast for the entire conference is developed,” explained Bredenfoerder.
It may or may not be surprising to learn that the foundation for these forecasts are generated largely through a non-scientific, very predictable mean: by simply paying attention to what’s going on in the world. For example, Bredenfoerder said the influences that dictate color “run the gamut from social issues to politics, the environment, the economy and cultural diversity.” He said “an understanding of the influences provides the most useful information, and it is the input of so many color designers that gives each forecast its tremendous validity.”
A prime example can be seen with the emergence of global warming on the national agenda. This time last year, environmental sustainability took center stage with the release of former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. CMG forecasted that green and other earth-tone colors would be prevalent in 2007. The ‘prediction’ could not have been more accurate. For the first time ever, Hollywood A-listers arrived at February’s Oscars’ in “green” automobiles—hybrid vehicles touting their energy efficiency and low pollutant status. “[CMG] members have found they can often identify the ‘new hot colors’ in advance by reading the important influences we identify,” noted Bredenfoerder. “What did we see at the Oscars? Quieter, neutral colors and a marked presence of greens and blues.” Is it all starting to make sense now?
It is important to note CMG’s forecasts are “color directions not directives,” stressed Bredenfoerder. “We do not claim to dictate; we do our best to identify the major influences and how they might translate into new, stable color directions.”
Back to this year’s colors: greens, browns and neutrals have made themselves household names. Bredenfoerder provided nothing short of a collage of colorful quotes from what some of fashion and design’s top brass are saying about the colors’ emergence on the scene:
“The prevalence of green, from sportswear to dressier looks, is an ongoing phenomenon, showing renewed respect for green that speaks to preservation of the environment,” noted Leatrice Eiseman, director of The Pantone Color Institute, at last September’s New York Fashion Week.
After green, consumers should be getting down with brown.
“The big news in color is brown. Yes, people, brown is the new black. Paired with baby pink and blue, rich jewel colors, or black and metallics, brown is really happening,” noted Nancy Bernard of Step Inside Design Magazine.
Neutrals are also holding court.
“Musings about neutrals rarely end in exclamation points. They’re too safe, too recessive, too conventional. Not to worry. This season, it’s all about beautiful mid-tones and deep shades. Think cinnamon, gourmet chocolate, Turkish coffee. Think skin tones from ports around the world” [www.sherwin-williams.com].
Bredenfoerder pointed out color trends in apparel are vastly different from those in other industries, primarily because they change so rapidly. “This is often why we hear the words, ‘hot new colors,’” he explained. “If other manufacturers tried to follow ‘hot new colors,’ they will always be playing a catch-up game they can never win.”
What comes first, the chicken or the egg? The same can be asked of fashion and color. Which influences the other? In fact, Bredenfoerder said the two work in tandem. “It’s like an inter-industry exchange grid, but the driving forces are the issues that are important in the world,” he reiterated. “Even the most secretive collections developed by the high-fashion houses are driven by the major influences that are important in the world. To quote trend guru, Robin Waters: ‘Trend is not driven by what’s next, but by what is important.’”
Some issues that have been of grave importance in recent decades include awareness for illnesses such as cancer and AIDS/HIV. When asked to explain how specific colors are chosen to represent important causes like these, Bredenfoerder said the decisions are usually made by the cause leaders themselves. However, he noted the color selections can have far greater impact beyond their intended purpose. “Pink was picked for breast cancer awareness simply because the founders thought it was feminine,” he explained. “But this choice has had a major impact to change the position of pink. Pink is now a pride color for all women—it now represents strength and solidarity. It’s not just for Barbie anymore.”
The big question still remains to be answered: What colors will be hot in 2008? While Brendenfoerder was not at liberty to divulge any specifics, he did offer some insight into the color families that should be watched: browns, reds and oranges; fusions of yellow, green and brown; greens, blue-greens, blues, purples and neutrals in the off-white world. “There has been an overall trend and desire in the marketplace for simplicity,” he said. “With that in mind, we should look for new special-effect whites and quieter blues and greens.”
Bredenfoerder further weighed in on yellows and the influence the 2008 summer Olympics will have on next year’s colors.
“Yellow gold has been making a return to the jewelry and tableware markets, along with earthier metals of coppers, bronzes, gunmetal, warm silvers and more complex tinted silvers—a warmer metallic trend overall,” he said. “Along with that, the yellow family is a sleeper to be watched.”
He continued: “As the world meets in Bejing in 2008, look for traditional Chinese red, jade and tea greens, as well as Chinese yellow and the blue/white combinations seen on Chinese porcelains.”
Of the challenges the organization faces, Bredenfoerder admitted CMG’s democratic business structure is the source of much of its woes. “Everyone has an opinion about color—our clients and our associates,” he confided. “In the marketplace, the only opinion that really matters is the consumer’s. Our job is to read the influences and how they will play out in the consumer’s mind. The biggest challenge is convincing our clients and colleagues that there really is a process behind color direction forecasting.”
To keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of the color business, Bredenfoerder said CMG “constantly monitors the major influences” in addition to incorporating a daily online platform for its members to exchange ideas.
It seems these ideas, coupled with a bit of help from several of the five senses will ensure color’s future remains bright, or neutral, or subtle, or...