NEW YORK — Enough gloom and doom: There's a prediction from a leading color source that cheerful and sunny yellow will be the influential color of 2009.
Pantone, which provides color standards to design industries, specifically cites mimosa, a vibrant shade of yellow illustrated by the flowers of some mimosa trees as well as the brunch-favorite cocktail, as its top shade of the new year. In general, Pantone expects the public to embrace many tones of optimistic yellow.
"I think it's just the most wonderful symbolic color of the future," says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. "It's invariably connected to warmth, sunshine and cheer - all the good things we're in dire need of right now."
In the spring fashion collections previewed earlier in the fall for retailers and editors, yellow brightened the runways of Carolina Herrera - who called her favorite shade marigold - Badgley Mischka, Zac Posen and Michael Kors, among others. Kors even included a retro yellow polka-dot bikini that clearly harkened back to a more upbeat time.
A more upbeat time--such as 1960, when the song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" was popular? Okay, I admit--I'm getting so tired of the media's endless attempt to paint the Obama presidency as the new Camelot that I can't help but wonder about this sudden resurgence of a shade of yellow we haven't seen since Jackie Kennedy wore it to India in 1962. But I'm probably being overly suspicious.
As I wrote last year, there's no denying that color influences us in a myriad of subtle ways. Yellow is considered a stimulating and cheerful color, but it can also provoke anger. Red and yellow are used in combination in many restaurant ads because these colors together can stimulate the appetite and make us feel hungry. And as a linguistic shorthand for "cowardice" yellow has no equal.
Still, as a "color of the year" and a potential marketing point, Mimosa is a bit riskier than last year's choice of Blue Iris. Even in the article about this year's color choice there were strong suggestions that consumers would have to find particular shades, beyond the "Mimosa" color, that appealed to them personally or that they could actually wear, because yellow is a trickier color to wear than blue. Too much bright yellow in one place is usually unattractive to the eye, and individuals react to it emotionally more than they do to shades of blue; the same yellow that can be employed to suggest cheerfulness and happiness can, when used too lavishly, create a frenzied or anxious feeling instead.
And if the economy continues to decline, it will take a lot more than a cheerful accent color to get consumers spending. Then again, two famous yellow advertising icons are seeing their businesses increase in these uncertain days: the Golden Arches and that famous yellow low price smiley. Maybe "Mimosa" should be renamed "Discount-Store/Dollar Menu Yellow."
Time will tell if this year's color choice is being used by marketers and retailers to entice some cheerful impulse spending or to remind customers where the cheap food and plastic stuff can be bought without adding too much to their debt loads. But as I said last year, the crunchy alternative is to be aware of the manipulation and thus to avoid it, whether the push is to get shoppers to festoon their living rooms with yellow accents, to buy accessories like yellow shoes and purses, or just to pull in at the drive-through and virtuously decline to be super-sized while congratulating oneself on one's habits of thrift.