When the color experts at Pantone first decided to name a color of the year 20 years ago, they knew they were taking a risk. Not only was the cultural conversation dominated by Y2K paranoia, but Pantone was hardly a household name. “The person on the street didn’t know what Pantone was,” recalls Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the company’s Color Institute. Common reactions, she says, included, “You mean the shampoo? The Italian bread?”
Two decades after the new millennium was painted Cerulean Blue, Pantone’s color forecasts are the reigning authority for a multitude of industries. To ring in yet another era, the company announced tonight that the Pantone Color of the Year 2020 is Classic Blue—a familiar, calming shade of azure.
Pantone’s decade-launching choice might seem staid (especially in comparison to 2019’s showy Living Coral), but such a recognizable, reliable color presents a foil to the uncertainty the future holds. “When we look at the world around us, we know that we’re living with a lot of unrest, where some days we don’t feel quite as secure,” Eiseman explains. “Blue, from an emotional, psychological standpoint, has always represented a certain amount of calm and dependability. It’s a color that you can rely on.”
It’s also a color that’s ubiquitous the world over. During the company’s global research effort (one that begins well over a year in advance of the announcement), Classic Blue popped up in fields as diverse as the art market, the beauty industry, automotive manufacturing, tech, and even outer space. Eiseman is careful to distinguish 2020’s color from a deep navy (as Sherwin-Williams picked earlier this year), a bright ultramarine (Hyper Blue, as Clever dubbed it), or past Pantone Colors of the Year including 2010’s Turquoise, 2008’s Blue Iris, and 2000’s Cerulean. “There are many different blues in the Pantone system, but this particular shade really gave us that feeling of confidence and stability,” she says.
Pantone’s insights are perfectly aligned with interior design’s gradual return to traditional decorating styles. Blue unites classic design genres ranging from chinoiserie to Americana. “I don’t think there’s any question of it,” Eiseman says of this comeback, predicting a resurgence of lustrous blue taffetas and velvets. But, she adds, “We’re going to find some new twist, especially in their fabrication.”
To augment the 2020 reveal, Pantone included a twist of its own: As part of its marketing campaign, the company partnered with several brands to develop the smell, sound, taste, and texture of Classic Blue. The resulting package included a swatch of suede-like fabric from the Inside, a musk-and-sea-salt-scented candle, a blue, berry-flavored jelly, and a three-minute audio track titled “Vivid Nostalgia.”
While blue-colored toast is unlikely to catch on anytime soon, Eiseman hopes that the exercise will encourage designers and consumers alike to rethink color in the decade ahead. “The more you talk about it, the more you realize how intrinsic color is in our psyches,” she reflects. “I mean, my husband’s barber wanted to know what the color of the year was.”