Decoding Design

Colors that will influence design in 2013

Colors that will influence design in 2013

Posting in Design

Released during Fashion Week in New York, a report from Pantone analyzes the most popular colors on the catwalks. Savvy designers will likely use them in products across industries next year.

Fashion Week is underway through September 13 in New York, and during the event, the world's leading clothing designers are showing off creations that will hit stores soon. While the runway presentations might seem removed from the "real world," trends that are established during Fashion Week tend to influence designers in other realms, from the furniture to the automotive to the tech industries.

And popular colors among fashion designers -- which often reflect their interpretations of cultural zeitgeist at a given time -- are often later incorporated in products from car exteriors to dining chairs to smartphone cases. (Think of how avocado green came to symbolize 1970s kitchen appliances and decor, or shiny metallics, like stainless steel, did the same in the 2000s.) A new report on trendy colors from Pantone, a color-system provider that creates standards for the hues used by designers and manufacturers across industries, was just released in time for Fashion Week.

The report surveys the most prominent colors used in the Spring 2013 collections (the fashion world shows off clothes one season in advance on the runways). Pantone's analysts also identified what narrative the popular colors suggest. In a way, the color spectrum presented in the report also reflects what designers believe consumers are looking for, in terms of products that can address their current mood and desires. The report states that the most popular colors for Spring 2013 offer "a palette that that mixes dynamic brights with novel neutrals to create a harmonious balance. This allows for unique combinations that offer practicality and versatility, but at the same time, demand attention and earn an appreciative glance." In a time of ongoing economic uncertainty, the notion that consumers are seeking a sense of comforting harmony blended with functionality seems about right.

For Spring 2013, Pantone has identified green as a dominant shade in the women's collections, from a bright yellow-green hue (that Pantone classifies as Tender Shoots, to a subdued pale green classified as Grayed Jade, to Emerald, a bright jewel tone. Tracy Reese, the designer of the dress worn by Michelle Obama during her speech at the Democratic National Convention, stated in the Pantone report that she was inspired by the "vast palette" used by painter David Hockney to use greens for her Spring 2013 collection. Interestingly, the report and the designer commentaries do not associate "green" with sustainability as the 2010s are underway, staying away from perhaps the most obvious symbolic use of the color in the 2000s. Instead, they collectively seem to imply that green conveys a sense of freshness, vitality, and simply is pretty.

Other colors that are used often in Fashion Week presentations--and are likely to surface in other products later in 2013--include a lovely, soft yet vibrant purple called African Violet; a super bright, cheery Poppy Red; the coral-tinged, fruity Nectarine; a nearly neutral and toned down Dusk Blue, an alternative to more traditional neutrals such as tan; and a just-slightly-brighter-than-navy Monaco Blue; and the greenish yellow, Lemon Zest.

The hues that surfaced in the men's collections for spring are very similar, with only a more masculine Sunflower yellow, a brownish Tidal Foam green, a very neutral Linen tan, and a classic gray classified as Alloy added to the mix.

When Spring 2013 rolls around, it will be fun--and fascinating--to see how these colors surface outside of fashion. Will more graphic designers (who use the Pantone color system) be creating websites with these palettes so that the sites look more timely and appeal to viewers and readers? Will interaction designers incorporate them into user interfaces? Will smartphone cases, cars, and blenders sell better if they're produced in these hues? And, of course, it will be most interesting to see if dresses, ties, and sweaters will also fly off the racks if produced in these colors, long after models have worn them on Fashion Week catwalks.

(For more, below is a video from Pantone, featuring Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, discussing the report.)

Image: Pantone.com

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure