Pantone’s 2015 Color of the Year is Positively Delicious

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Drumroll, please. Today Pantone announces its 2015 Color of the Year, and this year’s choice is rich and delectable: Marsala, aka Pantone 18-1438 TCX. Following on the last three years—last year’s color Radiant Orchid, 2013’s Emerald and 2012’s Tangerine Tango—Marsala represents a departure from bold, candy-line hues into earthier territory. I spoke by phone with Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®, about the thinking that went into this year’s choice.

Pantone Color of the Year 2015-Marsala

Pantone Color of the Year 2015—18-1438-Marsala

Lee described the color as that of marsala wine. “It’s a celebration of something enriching not only to your body, but to the mind and soul even,” she says. “Its undertones lean to brown and orange, yet it’s a shade of wine. There’s a heartiness and robust quality; it’s sophisticated yet hardy.”

“We think this color is indicative of our times,” she continued. “Today you find a great interest in food and wine, in feeling fulfilled not only from an appetite standpoint, but on another level. Those are very sought-after characteristics today.”

You can’t get much more grounded – literally – than a rich, multivalent brown. I asked Lee to comment on what might seem like a curious choice: why go with lollipop shades during shakier economic times, then turn to a steady color right when the economic downturn seems finally behind us? Lee explained this way: “Everybody is chastened by what’s happened in the economy in the last few years, so now we’re being more thoughtful. Let’s have a color we can depend on for a bit longer.” She characterized Marsala as a “steady” color: “It’s rooted, with an almost classic color feeling. It’s got glamour attached to it, and longevity. This color is expressive of history and the idea of linking back up to history.”

Pantone Color of the Year 2015—18-1438-Marsala
Pantone Color of the Year 2015—18-1438-Marsala

That concept of a color’s steadiness resonates not only in emotional terms, but also in its malleability (or not) in changing cultural contexts. Citing color-word association studies Pantone has upgraded for years, Lee remarked: “The wine family [of colors] has that grounded feeling. People don’t change their consciousness too rapidly about those colors. Orange used to be associated with cheaper merchandise, with the fast-food phenomenon in the 1960s. Now in the web era orange can mean Hermes and top-of-the-line. That’s changing consciousness in a big way.” Marsala provides a strong counterpoint, Lee notes. “Does it reach a point when it becomes universally negative? Not really: Those associations are pretty steady in people’s minds. We need a steadying and yet sophisticated color.”


I interviewed Lee last year about Radiant Orchid, which to me posed an interesting consumer challenge: could you convince men to buy ties in such a peacock-brilliant color? Marsala poses no such challenge, which doesn’t mean it isn’t beguiling. Choosing Marsala suggests to me that consumers are finally comfortable with big-ticket purchases again: cars, couches, expensive boots. They’d be fine to dabble in a few inexpensive throw pillows in emerald or orchid, but a five-figure leather bedframe? Not so much.

The color palettes that accompany Marsala play second fiddle as accents this time. I admire the pairings, while not entirely agreeing that these combinations aren’t destined to feel dated. “Silver pink” screams 1980s-era “dusty rose” to me and still reads quite unattractive to my eye. And while I love me some acid-green, shades cousin to cress green and lemongrass have already enjoyed recent cycles – not recent enough, however, that those accessories would still be kicking around consumers’ households. Perhaps the history we’re linking back up to are the years right before the financial crisis, suggesting a willful cultural amnesia, perhaps. Pantone doesn’t excuse the consumer appetites they tap, merely channels them into brighter focus. Whether one likes the underlying suggestions or not, I would lay money on their choices accurately reflecting our collective color-yen.

Having featured Marsala already in its Spring 2015 Fashion Color Report, Lee predicts we’ll see this shade ascending in cosmetics (no surprise) and consumer electronics (big surprise, and yet not). “The word ‘organic’ is a good way to talk about that feeling we have for electronics today,” Lee remarked. “Marsala has rootedness, yet versatility. It’s a unique color for consumer products, even unexpected, but that’s not a bad thing. That’s what keeps the consumer’s eye awake and aware.”

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