Friday, December 5, 2008

Did You Want Fries With That?

Those of you who remember this post from last year will not be surprised that I've decided to blog about this year's color of the year: yellow, particularly the shade called Mimosa:

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.


Charlotte said...

Hey Red,
I've always been super interested in Pantone's color predictions, and I keep track of them.

This yellow they speak of, yes, it's probably Obama-hope related. Except just this past fall, Pantone was saying that warm, fall gold was losing favor as a color (a mainstay of color in decorating since Sept. 11). Not saying they they're contradicting themselves (since it's all about shades and gradients), but I think this proclamation of yellow is crossing the line way farther into cultural psychology than they ever have before.

And yellow for clothing? It is notoriously the worst seller. Unless you're African-American, it looks terrible on over 75% of all people. Also, most makeup companies design their foundations and powders to eliminate the natural yellow undertones that exist in most people's complexions.

Thanks for posting this!

Peony Moss said...

I thought I read somewhere that the color experts decide a couple of years in advance what the in colors are going to be. (The home-dec Illuminati.)

Ellyn said...

I would love to work for Pantone...writing odes to colors! Every day must be like the first day of school, with a 64 count box of Crayolas.

I'm in agreement with those who feel dismay at the prospect of so much yellow clothing. This is probably a good time to invest in white blouses and turtlenecks to keep the yellow away from the face.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ugh! Yellow? It reflects off my pasty skin and makes me look like I have JAUNDICE.

Luckily, I won't be buying new clothes for a while......

Willa said...

That was interesting! I am fashion-oblivious but the connection of color to political, social and economic issues really pulled me in : ).

Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of a color of the year, but the word 'mimosa' sounds 'romantic'.

If there is some internationally yearly recognized color, now, I understand why I couldn't find any sunny golden yellow Mediterranean hues in dishware when I was desperately seeking yellow in the late '90s. Even in bed and kitchen linens, shades of buttercup and marigold were nowhere to be found. It was just a couple years later when Martha Stewart came out with some pale greens, ocean blues, and pale yellow in wallpaper patterns, that I was finally considering buying something more restful than the strong, but bold Dutch blue I could only find that was an acceptable substitute.

When we moved into this house ~ 20 yrs ago it was still appointed in the original (and timeless) cream, walnut and golden birch, and in the kitchen with celery green tile and wallpaper touches of a tasteful pastiche of pale yellow, cream, pale sherbet orange, green and gold, which I immediately foiled with yellow gingham to line the shelves and cover kitchen appliances, and very fortunately found a fabric of slightly contrasting bright citrus combination (yellow, lime, orange and black) for tablecloths, linens, and under the glass cover on the kitchen desk. At the time white Corelle went well as well as a light greenish blue melamine found in the stores.

But, in the late 90's when I was recovering devastating physical ailment with no letup in sight and I spending a lot of time surrounded by my family in the kitchen, I was looking for warmth to encircle the many, many cups of tea and broth we shared. Growing up, yellow had been my sister's favorite color, whereas mine was light lime of early spring.(I had heard that yellow brought out the sallowness of skin tones and that folks of certain ethnicities should never wear it, but personally, it brings out the golden glow in many skin tones, especially beautifully in a healthy Japanese-American baby.) However, I would never been seen in yellow in public, even as an accessory--too much attention-getting, like those kids in yellow rain slickers and 'safety yellow' signage!

That winter of recovery I found myself craving the comfort of a rich, vibrant, warm yellow and I had to wait sometime before the pottery arrived from Portugal.