Pantone is a color-coding company, not a language-coding company, but its annual end-of-year publicity stunt, announcing the upcoming Color of the Year, always requires a little vamping. If they just said “This is the color that manufacturers have agreed to start using so that your existing fashion items and durable goods feel out of date,” everyone would feel a little let down. So for 2016, the pink and blue of “Rose Quartz” (Pantone 13-1520) and “Serenity” (Pantone 15-3919) were “welcoming colors that psychologically fulfill our yearning for reassurance and security.” If that wasn’t the spirit of 2016, then what was?
This year’s next year’s color is “Living Coral” (Pantone 16-1546), the name of which alone contains all the tragedy and irony anyone needs. “Living coral” is a retronym, like “acoustic guitar” or “landline telephone”; it clarifies a point that formerly needed no clarification. “Coral” alone used to be a known, if unsettled, color for clothing and decor: a drifting target somewhere among red, pink, and orange. Real corals came in lots of other colors, but everyone understood the idea.
Now the real coral is bleak dead white, because it’s all being killed off by the warming oceans, the result of an advanced consumer capitalist society that keeps manufacturing new fashion items and durable goods to meet induced demand, caused in part by intentional cyclical introductions of new colors to replace old ones. “In reaction to the onslaught of digital technology and social media increasingly embedding into daily life,” Pantone wrote, “we are seeking authentic and immersive experiences that enable connection and intimacy.”
This flight from false and lifeless contemporary existence is not a new message from Pantone. Here’s the description of 2017’s “Greenery” (Pantone 15-0343): “The more submerged people are in modern life, the greater their innate craving to immerse themselves in the physical beauty and inherent unity of the natural world.”
The coral situation, though, raises the stakes from inchoate yearnings to specific bad news: The color, Pantone wrote, can be found in “glorious, yet unfortunately more elusive, display beneath the sea.”