Pantone – dictator of fashion?

Pantone Tangerine Tango

Did you know that “Tangerine Tango” is the Pantone color of the year?

If you answered “yes,” you can thank the Pantone Color Group, which launched a massive publicity campaign to promote that color, “a spirited reddish orange,” throughout the fashion industry and media.

In 2011 the color of the year was “Honeysuckle,” which according to Pantone’s website, “encouraged us to face everyday troubles with verve and vigor. This year, Tangerine Tango “continues to provide the energy boost we need to recharge and move forward.”

Wow! How did the Pantone Color group get to be the salve and solution for the doldrums, personal or national? The answer is through very savvy positioning and marketing.

Advertising solution

Pantone LLC was founded by Lawrence Herbert in 1963 to address the need to communicate colors in the graphic arts field. Just think how frustrating it was for 1960s advertising executives (think “Mad Men”) to work with a client who said, for instance, he wanted all his advertising and marketing materials done in aquamarine.

So the agency would roll out a campaign in their idea of aquamarine, only to catch heck from the client for the materials being too green or blue or mint or teal rather the client’s idea of aquamarine.

Okay, we all have an image in our head of what aquamarine looks like, but it is impossible for us to all share the same image.

To fight that inevitable confusion, the clever Mr. Herbert created a uniform reference guide of colors. He put a rainbow of colors on narrow strips of paper and bound them with a brad, similar to paint samples, and named all of them.

Now, when the ad exec and his client talked about aquamarine, each of them can fan out his Pantone Color Guide to the exact color and know what they are talking about. The Pantone Matching System, called PMS, defines the exact ink colors or formula to create each color, a recipe for the printer.

The system was first used in the graphic arts community. But soon Pantone color guides became common tools in home furnishings, fashion, beauty and manufacturing.

Pantone kept evolving and now is home to the Pantone Color Institute, a color research and information center. The sharp people at Pantone have turned their expertise into a lucrative consulting business, working years ahead of the seasons.

What began as a need to define color names now means that Pantone comes out with big, self-important pronouncements of “The Color of the Year.” And we all listen.

Sephora, the beauty industry giant, is running full-page ads (just saw one in the current issue of WWD Beauty, Inc.) introducing the Color of the Year, Tangerine Tango, and launching its “breakthrough partnership with Pantone.”

Color is popular. Pantone is popular. Everyone wants to be linked with Pantone.

Dominant trend

Pantone has capitalized on the rise of color as the dominant trend element in fashion and other creative industries. Women are always asking me what the significant fashion trends are.

At times, that question really meant “What is the latest on hemline length?” or “What is the must-have fashion item this season?”

Now the question means, “What is the hottest, most stylish color of the moment?”

Color has become the dominant fashion element for several reasons. One is that in our fast-changing, instant communication world, we see just too darn many trends out there all at once. It gets confusing.

However, color is a simple concept – we can all understand color.

Women want to make choices, but they also want some clear direction. Another plus for color is that it easy to interpret at all price points, from couture to mass market.

Think about it. Which is more successful for the fashion industry to tell the world: that all women should be wearing harem pants – or that everyone should try on Tangerine Tango? Color wins.

This summer, more than many summers in recent memory, is the season to enjoy bright hues and have fun with color. Watch for summer outfits that give you “an energy boost” with a hit of Tangerine Tango.

But the fun doesn’t stop with summer. Be on the lookout for Tangerine Tango to acquire a hint of bronze to adapt to the fall season later in the year.

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