Color And Pattern Punch from New York Fashion Week 2013

I’m a sucker for fashion-watching, not least because this strays well outside my usual professional bailiwick. At the same time, and feel free to borrow my elaborate reasoning to excuse your own extracurricular horseplay, parsing the trends in color and pattern in fashion can be a useful lens on other areas of design. After all, everyone will garb themselves in more wearable versions of this stuff next fall and winter – we all wear, and care about, clothes. But the longer lead-times of fashion manufacturing compel textile designers to think in broader arcs into the future than, say, graphic designers, who don’t have to tool up in China months in advance to produce whatever they envision right now. The Pantone rainbow of colors is eminently available, all colors exactly the same price (zippo) to employ.

Dress by Thom Browne. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Dress by Thom Browne. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Let’s consider fashion today as a thought experiment – a brilliant yellow canary in the coal mine of designers’ collective unconscious. My working theory goes like this: The color palettes, textures, patterns and shapes let loose into the world by fashion designers work their way, surreptitiously or not, back into graphic and print design for months into the future. It’s a panoply of ideas on parade on that catwalk, more than clothes – and they’re fruitful ideas for graphic designers to steal. With that in mind, let’s go deeper and see what we can observe.

Clothes by Prabal Gurung. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Prabal Gurung. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Prabal Gurung. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Prabal Gurung. Image by Nowfashion.com.

First, olive-green is the new black. (Mind you, though, black is still the new black. The runways are running deep with classically inky shades of midnight this season.) Still, olive-green and its military cousins, like khaki, steel gray-blue and dun brown, crop up over and over as the new neutrals.

Clothes by Theysken's Theory. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Theysken’s Theory. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Another delicious new trend is a tendency toward ornate, folkloric-style embroideries with a tapestry feel. Still another brilliant thread running through many collections is a weakness for raspberry-red and flame orange as an accent color. Most or all of these trends are beautifully in evidence in Prabal Gurung (above), Alexander McQueen, Yohji Yamamoto and Ohne Titel (below).

Clothes by Alexander McQueen. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Alexander McQueen. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Yohji Yamamoto. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Yohji Yamamoto. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Ohne Titel. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Ohne Titel. Image by Nowfashion.com.

When sifting through Fashion Week collections, I’m always on the lookout for eye-catching new palettes, colors in unexpected (and lovely) combination. Another little theory of mine: color palettes build on each other in hopscotch fashion, where hot colors from previous seasons switch dance partners, so to speak, and get paired in new combinations in the new seasons. That way, our wardrobe additions build on the colors we already own and inject those colors with freshness again. This is both practical in fashion and interiors – even if you love the new seasonal colors, you’re unlikely to ditch everything you own if they don’t gel with last season’s – but I’d argue this thinking also operates in graphic design palettes. Last year’s website palette is burned in your users’ heads like a faint after-image; when you switch your look up this year, it behooves you to move stepwise with color, to consider how the new builds or comments upon the old.

I’d put this season’s excitement for flame orange and raspberry-red in this category of old-refreshed-into-new. Those colors have burned up the runways (and other areas of design) before. See my post Flaming Pink: The Hot New Color. Here you’ll see how flame orange accents complements the new olive-green neutrals, plus suggests new visual directions. Below, Rag & Bone pairs a dun neutral with both a muted raspberry, a bright orange and deliciously electric blue shoes — itself a holdover from another momentary and almost-bygone color trend, International Klein Blue. Expect to see these colors dancing and re-partnering with one another over the coming months to years.

Clothes by Rag & Bone. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Rag & Bone. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Creatures of the Wind. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Creatures of the Wind. Image by Nowfashion.com.

What else did I spy? Monochromes enlivened with various textures. Below you can see how Donna Karan makes monochrome shine gorgeously. This way of handling a single color also is surprisingly practical. If your wardrobe is already dominated by one shade, just buy one or two texture-mad accents in that same color. Get something outrageously shiny, furry or feathered and you can reinvigorate your monochromes into something wittier and infinitely brighter. Try monochrome with clashing graphic patterns in the same color (Thom Browne) or monochrome with a tapestry pattern (Alexander McQueen) for a similarly clever take on this idea.

Clothes by Donna Karan. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Donna Karan. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Thom Browne. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Thom Browne. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Alexander McQueen. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Alexander McQueen. Image by Nowfashion.com.

In another hopscotch move from last year, 2013’s feel for texture meets 2012’s yen for pastels paired with neon to produce this year’s love-child: iridescence and ombré. Iridescence, at least, will jade the eye quickly and probably cycle out of fashion rapidly. But oh, how gorgeous it looks right now:

Clothes by Jonathan Saunders. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Jonathan Saunders. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Jonathan Saunders. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Jonathan Saunders. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Creatures of the Wind. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by Creatures of the Wind. Image by Nowfashion.com.

I’m also seeing lots of big, classic optical patterns, like J. Crew’s houndstooth (also in a muted berry-pink) and racing stripes. Note the tapestry-like embroidery at play in the sweater paired with stripes:

Clothes by J. Crew. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by J. Crew. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by J. Crew. Image by Nowfashion.com.

Clothes by J. Crew. Image by Nowfashion.com.

As you cruise about the web and the world, consider whether color-palette or pattern trends are filtering unseen into other pockets of the graphic-design world. I bet you’ll be (very delightfully) surprised at how much they can, and do.

All images courtesy of Nowfashion.com


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2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Paper Acrobat: it’s true, I didn’t happen upon a lot of Pantone emerald green in my collections research, but I’m sure it’ll crop up during the course of Fashion Week. There are literally dozens of collections hitting the runways, it’s a bit bewildering – so I just took my own subjective sample on trends that especially interested me. Should you spy any brilliant designs using emerald green, by all means let us know!