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The Pantone Colors of the Year for 2021 are Ultimate Gray and Illuminating

Pantone Color of the Year 2021
The Pantone Colors of the Year for 2021: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.
(Getty Images)

After living through quite possibly the worst year ever, or as columnist Sally Jenkins quipped last week, “this damn zombie movie,” we look back on a year in which we wrestled with a global pandemic, illness, economic distress and social upheaval.

Which makes the Pantone Color Institute, which chose Classic Blue as the Color of the Year for 2020, pretty prescient.

“It’s a color that anticipates what’s going to happen next,” Laurie Pressman, the vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, said last year in predicting a blue trend. (One could argue that the prediction manifested in a blue mood, a Democratic president and the World Champion Dodgers).

Pantone Color of the Year 2021: Illuminating
Pantone Color of the Year 2021: Illuminating
(Pantone)

On Wednesday, Pantone announced that its 2021 Colors of the Year are Ultimate Gray and Illuminating, shades chosen for their warmth and dependability.

The Pantone press release issued Wednesday described Illuminating as “a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power.” Ultimate Gray, like pebbles, is emblematic of “solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.”

“The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one. The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said in a press release. “Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit.”

Pantone’s ability to forecast color trends is a marketing force that helps furniture, textile, fashion, accessory and technology designers choose designs from season to season. Beginning today, retailers, designers and fashion brands will flood our inboxes with gray and yellow toothbrushes and swimsuits; nail polish and exterior paint options.

Pantone Color of the Year 2021, Ultimate Gray
Pantone Color of the Year 2021, Ultimate Gray
(Pantone)

After a tough year of sheltering in place, will homeowners who are spending money on home upgrades in place of movies, trips and dining out adopt the optimistic color palette?

Designers think so.

“Yellow makes you happy and gray is the perfect neutral,” said designer Cortney Novogratz of The Novogratz. “We have always used yellow in our designs and products which are quite popular.”

L.A. actress and designer Arden Myrin, said she painted the door of her Silver Lake bungalow a similar shade of yellow. “It makes me so happy every time I see it,” she said. “I am a firm believer that life can be hard enough, your home should be hopeful and joyful. What a wonderful decision to pick two colors. The gray, which has been many moments in 2020, bursting through with the bold optimism of the yellow makes it feel like there is hope ahead. I have always loved a pop or yellow, and now I think we all need a pop of yellow, tempered with a nice neutral color — although my neutral of choice with this color yellow is a deep navy.”

Although Orlando Soria, host of HGTV’s “Build Me Up” is a fan of “pretty, ethereal, pale grays,” he is not enthusiastic about Pantone’s shade of gray for Color of the Year. “Ultimate Gray falls into a category of grays I hate: mid-tone grays,” he said. “I find when these are used in spaces they look dead and dull.”

Still, he is on board with Illuminating. “Bright, saturated colors like this make me think of Wallpaper Magazine in the early 2000’s when minimal, Scandinavian design with hints of lime green and neon pink were popular,” Soria said. “I think the early 2000’s are definitely having a comeback, especially in fashion and music (think Billie Eilish’s neon green hair and Gucci costuming). I don’t know that a bunch of interior designers are gonna run out and paint rooms this bright yellow color but I can see it on clothes when people emerge back into the world and want to make a statement.”

Houzz senior editor Mitchell Parker said the home remodeling and design platform has long embraced the color pairing. “Because a bright yellow color can sometimes be overwhelming in large doses, we typically see homeowners use just a small splash of it with larger swaths of gray to make a strong visual statement,” he said. “An example might be a gray exterior paint color paired with a pop of yellow at the front door. Or yellow furniture pieces or decor that offer a bit of flair to gray cabinets in a bathroom or kitchen. This palette also plays nicely with most wood tones. We’re excited to see it garner more attention with Pantone’s annual designation.”

UCLA economists share Pantone’s optimistic outlook for 2021, predicting on Wednesday that the U.S. economy will experience “a gloomy COVID winter and an exuberant vaccine spring,” followed by years of growth.

If the Pantone Color of the Year is designed to highlight the relationship between color trends and what is happening in the world, we can only hope that this year’s forecast of hope and stability is more than just an educated guess.


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