Have you ever thought about the past, and had certain colors stick out in your mind?
(I have vivid memories of my Dad’s Dodge Dart from the early ’80s—a bright, almost “Dukes of Hazard” orange. My 1992 Pontiac Grand Am was an odd sparkling teal, that I really haven’t seen since.)
There’s a reason certain colors are suddenly everywhere—and then, just as suddenly, seem to disappear.
For the past eight years, a small group of people from around the world have come together in Pittsburgh to pick the PPG Paints Color of the Year, which will appear on products ranging from phones to aircraft, refrigerators to hotel doors. PPG Paints is the largest manufacturer of coatings in the world, and its headquarters is in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Though one color will have particular prominence, they’ll decide upon entire palettes of as many as 120 colors to be showcased in the coming year. (It’s decided during the first three days of February, but the official announcement will be withheld until June 1.)
On Wednesday morning at the Hotel Monaco, Downtown, 25 stylists from six countries pored over swatches of color and storyboards labeled in mysterious shorthand. Two storyboards marked “USA” seem to offer very different visions—one is labeled “Earth Warriors; Protected Survival,” and another reads “Super-Normal/Basicist/Boring.”
“They come together once a year to tell what they’re seeing in their industries and parts of the world, and they’ll narrow it down to a theme or a story (and color) for 2018,” notes PPG’s spokesperson for Architectural Coatings, Jamie Altman. “Trends in society and fashion—they pull from all these places to create a narrative.”
It’s a little chaotic, but it seems to work. Last year, everybody arrived at the same color on the last day.
“This year, I’ve heard, they all have different colors in mind,” says Altman.
Colors often reflect what’s going on in the world. After 9/11, soft pink, “a compassionate color,” made sense, notes Dee Schlotter, National Color Manager for PPG’s Architectural Finishings. “Everything went gray in 2008, during the recession.”
2017 is the year of Violet Verbena, which was decided at last year’s meeting. It’s a blended color, she notes, reflecting the increasingly fluid conception of gender.
“It’s like when Prince and David Bowie died—why am I suddenly craving purple?” says Schlotter.
One theme emerging for the coming year (2018) seems to be “the space in between,” she says.
“Nobody’s bored anymore,” says Schlotter. “You have to look at your phone and be stimulated all the time. So we have these colors of silence and space—whites and blacks.”
“People influence trends,” says Schlotter, not the other way around. “If you get the colors wrong, you’re not going to sell anything.”
Jane Harrington, a color stylist for PPG’s automotive division, has to work with the auto industry’s particular requirements. They have to pick colors about three years in advance.
“Cars are very iconic,” she says. “Fashion is very fleeting. They (cars) choose a color to stand out in the marketplace.”
PPG works with just about every major auto company. Since each car gets about five coats of paint, the chances are pretty good that at least one of them comes from PPG.
“The color white looks great, but each manufacturer has a different white—creamy white, silky white, pearl white, grey white (and so on),” says Harrington.
Blue is another color that seems to fit the moment, and the needs of automakers.
“Blue is associated with truth and honesty—‘true blue,’” says Harrington.
The PPG logo is blue, which probably isn’t a coincidence.