The Color of the Year

(Shutterstock)

 

 

 

 

The classic vices are sexier, more noir, but I can wallow in color and feel like I have thrown back a fifth of bourbon. Clicking away from the latest streaming sensation without a second thought, I watch, breathless, a presentation from WGSN (the world’s leading consumer trend forecaster) on the new colors for 2024.

“New” should be in quotation marks. As Ecclesiastes would remind us, there are no new colors under (or from) the sun. But elevating a few shades every year changes how you see them, and I hear real excitement in the responses of WGSN’s panelists: head of color Urango Samba, fashion and graphics strategist Graham Krag, and head of interiors Gemma Riberti.

So much excitement, in fact, that I pull back. Sustained Gray is pronounced the perfect color “to express humble quiet luxury.” When has luxury ever been humble? Hyperbrights, the new neons, are equated with “an overwhelming desire to reignite the imagination,” yet a minute later, we are told that the “digital space” has been overbright, loud with harsh comic-book colors. Only now are “softer pastels starting to come through,” which is why The Color of the Year for 2024, Apricot Crush, “will resonate in the digital space…. It’s relatable, but it’s mystical at the same time.”

Lordamercy.

Yet I talk like this too; I hear myself through my husband’s ears when I am trying to explain why a particular shade is just plain wrong for our living room, why that burgundy has more warm tones and clashes with our bluer burgundy, why his favorite tie does not work with that jacket…. He blinks slowly, his expression blank but patient, and my descriptions grow more fevered as I try to make him see….

Now the panel is trying the same thing with me, raving about the pale celadon of Cool Matcha, another 2024 color. Hearing it described as a “color for wellness and mental health” gives me pause; it looks too much like the sickly green of scrubs and grade school auditoriums. And when we reach Panna Cotta as a special new color for interiors, “perfect for millennial parents looking for a more refined palette,” I balk. “So much more than a yellow,” Panna Cotta’s slightly yellow slightly beige cream “takes the conversation a step further.” What does that mean? “It’s great for pets as well,” one of the panelists adds.

Only if you are handing them a saucer of real panna cotta.

Color can so easily go silly, like wine tasting and horoscopes. Two of the three speakers are wearing black to tell us that the new Midnight Plum just might nudge black off center stage. Still, by the time they finish describing how Midnight Plum “can be velvet, comforting, like an embrace,” or work as paint or silk or athletic wear, or be “a sophisticated departure from the burgundy we fall back on for preppie back-to-school clothes,” rooted in space exploration and the gothic underground, and not trendy, even though it is a 2024 trend, but as timeless as the cosmos—I am ready to fill my closet and rooms with that “deep and rich and layered” color.

Apricot Crush is luscious, too, I have to admit. Also apparently “gender and age inclusive,” which the panelists take pains to explain. More complicated than being neutral or not pink or blue, inclusive colors are intentional, designed to appeal across the spectrum. I nod slowly; fun as this would be to mock, it does make sense. Beige could not be heralded with the same trumpet; beige goes with everything and appeals to no one. Apricot Crush, though, is luminous, reminding us of sunrises and fruit and blossoms without being twee or girlie or bubblegum. And given that “Gen Z does not subscribe to traditional gender norms” and “80 percent of men and women are looking to purchase more gender fluid clothing in the future, our colors need to reflect that.”

The panelists do know their stuff—these people live with swatches and color wheels. The Intense Rust chosen for 2024 is versatile, they explain, because “it sits at the border of red and orange and brown.” As for Sustained Gray, it “has a warmth yet recalls recycled materials. But at the same time, it can be really refined,” and it “promotes the virtues of balance, of slowing down. Celebrates the pursuit of just enough.”

If a splash of gray can do all that, I am in. Color does matter; it changes mood and sometimes even attitude, raising or lowering the energy level, stimulating or soothing us. But gray is wan, and I am so bloody sick of it. They quote an advanced color report for 2025—“Waste will be one of the most important sources of color in the future”—and I sigh heavily, envisioning ridged steel cans and shards of scrap metal. A source of color? No wonder we need Apricot Crush, prescribed to heal us “as we grapple with the range of emotions and feelings of uneasiness and uncertainty about the future.”

Color is political. We see that in flags and banners and propaganda; why not admit it in the consumer world? Trends are dictated to us, ostensibly for our own good, and often they respond to societal needs and issues. Pink shirts for men were an invitation to set down the burden of machismo. Pink on women is either defiant or clueless. Primary colors stimulate us and provoke action. Whatever becomes “the new black” takes over women’s closets.

Now that we are a hypervigital, screened society, color’s politics and hierarchies are growing more complicated. Fashion is stepping back, blurring, giving way to zillions of other influences. “Used to be that you had to look to the catwalks for the new colors,” one of the panelists notes. “TikTok can really make a color take off at the moment. We take cues from innovations all around us, all over the world.”

Even the way color is used makes a statement about society. The next trend is toward softer combinations—maybe a pastel and then a more saturated version of the same color—rather than the bold high contrast you saw in the brash, mod sixties and all their later, fainter imitators. The panelists repeat “the growing importance of pastels, colors that are a safe haven.”

Granted, they go on to praise just about every other category: we will see “earthy pigments to bring that grounding and keep us connected to the outside,” and “Darks are growing more important, more nuanced; it’s less about black and more about enveloping and reassuring.” In other words, everything is always in. Just not always available. These color lists will go to manufacturers, and soon, if we want a paler apricot than Crush or a pinkier purple than Midnight, we will be SOL.

“We have two years,” one of the panelists concludes, giddy with the possibilities in this constructed world of color. “There is so much that can happen.”

Most of it will be lost on most of us—and hard to put words to without sounding goofy. So do the picks of the year even matter, except to shape and limit our selections? The more color the better, I say. The fact that our tech devices are still mainly black or gray depresses me, as does the limited and utterly boring palette of car colors. We see all of that every day; it paints our world. Why slice out just a few chunks of the rainbow?

 

Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.

Subscribe to our "Mixed Issue" email newsletter!