The Future of Color: 2011 Fashion Week

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Welcome to the season of extremes, color-fans, or more aptly, the Season of Extreme Uneasiness. So far, color trends on display for Fashion Week’s Spring 2011 season teeter between barely-there and screaming-to-be-seen, reminding one of nothing so much as a chameleon finely attuned to the economic climate: nervously restive, yet ready to pop out spectacularly as soon as the coast clears.

Custo Barcelona

A fine place to start parsing the trends is Pantone’s Top 10 Colors for spring 2011 fashion. Four of the ten—Beeswax, Russet, Silver Cloud and Silver Peony—could be classified as neutrals, but each feels more multi-valenced, a richer color drained of its powers that might rev back into action with the tiniest of kicks. The true-colors in the bunch are garden-variety classics for warmer weather, a tropical staycation in palette form. In particular, Regatta is a brilliantly understated choice: when layered with multiple, more somber blues, this bolder shade pops, but in combination with varying hues it reads simply like a paler denim: another neutral poised for gaudy transformation.

What is it about designers and bold yellows? Every fashion season for the past five years has been daubed with canary, marigold, and ultraviolet highlighter ink, either as tossed-off accessories, as eyeshadow, or center-stage, saturating a full garment. It’s a rank attention-grabbing tactic, true, but despite the repetition of this old visual saw, it still feels glorious. The Carlos Miele dress below renders its dash of yellow like a river of molten, uranium-gold, both dangerous and dashing. Wes Gordon’s yellow shoes on a schoolgirl in pearl gray teach us a fashion maxim all over again: buy yourself some bold-yellow shoes already. It’s like blondness for your feet. They go with absolutely everything, and as a gesture, it’s always sure-footed and joyous.

Carlos Miele

Wes Gordon

One surprisingly versatile neutral cropped up over and over on the runway: a muted mint, an overtone color born of blue, green, and gray. Right now, this color’s moody introversion and its unexpected prevalence are appearing in multiple collections. Its most popular use—layered in micro-variations of similar shades—offers a lovely meditation on the subtleties of what neutrals can achieve. Its more washed-out shades, though, threaten to topple into muddiness, as suggested by the Max Azria dress below. However, its ability to balance out brighter shades (see Robert Geller, second) gives it a flexibility of range one might not immediately suspect. Deepened slightly in tone, as seen in the Vena Cava skirt (bottom), this blue-green shade takes on a bottle-green or pewter aspect that feels gorgeously solid: a neutral with true force of personality.

Max Azria

Robert Geller

Vena Cava

Even the treatment of color fields feels divided into camps this season, between the mad-patterners, like Custo Barcelona at the very top, and the color-blockers, like Prabal Gurung, below. As much as one wants to like the crazy-patchwork feel of multiple patterns, nutty-Grandma-in-the-attic is always in the offing. Strong, unbroken color fields stand so boldly in contrast, they feel somehow inarguable, towering in their decisiveness. Gurung’s mix of Pantone’s brightest shades is a classic combination, which gives the gesture an added confidence. It also shows how this season’s neutrals can easily be dialed up into true, full-blooded colors again, from clay-ish brown to coral, from pewter to blue curacao. Happy days, come here again! Colors are hibernating, waiting for your cue.

Prabal Gurung