Optimism and somberness collide in Pantone’s 2021 Color(s) of the Year.
Following one of the bleakest years in memory, Pantone has announced its 2021 color of the year. And it’s not one but two colors, designed to create the sensation of a fresh sunrise over rocky terrain. The colors are called PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating, a yellow that appears like the skin of a ripe lemon, and PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray, which resembles wet cement.
Pantone’s Color of the Year choices are based on the Pantone Color Institute’s research into trends percolating across fashion, interior design, architecture, and art. These are colors you will likely see more of in the next 12 to 24 months because they are meant to define something intrinsic to the zeitgeist. “We always feel a responsibility to get it right,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.
Which is why in the past few years especially, Pantone’s picks have been imbued with social significance, serving as a snapshot of the global mood. Pantone’s 2020 selection was Classic Blue, a tame choice meant to counteract the existential angst of autocratic leaders like Donald Trump and the mass propaganda behind them on platforms like Facebook. Pantone’s 2019 color was Living Coral, another color selected to provide reassurance in the face of rising authoritarianism.
Pantone’s 2021 symbology is almost too on the nose. After nearly a year of devastation due to COVID-19, viable vaccines are on the horizon. After the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we do not have anything near the justice and equity we need, but a new administration that promotes diversity is a huge step in the right direction.
The symbolism of the color of the year shouldn’t overshadow the business of color forecasting. Illuminating is a color on the rise, having made a small splash at London Fashion Week in October. A similar yellow has been percolating at Off-White and Louis Vuitton under designer Virgil Abloh. Fans of the upcoming mega game Cyberpunk 2077 may notice that Illuminating is a stone’s throw from its defining electric-yellow cover art (which spawned a dozen promotional products of its own).
For the average shopper, the Pantone team sees Illuminating as a pragmatic choice. Gray has been a mainstay across the world of design for at least a decade now, and with a splash of yellow, you can update your wardrobe or your dwelling without the complete makeover that most of us cannot currently afford.
This is only the second time in the 22 years that Pantone has choosing a color of the year that two colors have been selected. The first time was in 2015, when Rose Quartz and Serenity were chosen (which is to say, pink and blue for 2016). That year, the two shades were meant to blend into each other, reflecting the recognition of gender fluidity and social progress. But this year, the two shades are meant to stand on their own, as complementary tones, supporting each other.
"Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, the union of PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating is one of strength and positivity. It is a story of colour that encapsulates deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the promise of something sunny and friendly.
A message of happiness supported by fortitude, the combination of PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating is aspirational and gives us hope. We need to feel that everything is going to get brighter – this is essential to the human spirit.
As people look for ways to fortify themselves with energy, clarity, and hope to overcome the continuing uncertainty, spirited and emboldening shades satisfy our quest for vitality. PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power. PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation. The colours of pebbles on the beach and natural elements whose weathered appearance highlights an ability to stand the test of time, Ultimate Gray quietly assures, encouraging feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience."