Viva Magenta! The big business of Colour of the Year

Pantone’s Colour of the Year might just seem like a bit of fun, but its industry reach makes it big business. Now it’s heading for the metaverse.
A close up of deep crimson leaves.
SARAH VLOOTHUIS HEADSHOT Sarah Vloothuis Senior Manager External Communications

"You go to your closet, and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean."

Tyrant boss or fiercely passionate businesswoman? No matter how you feel about the character of Miranda Priestly in the 2006 drama The Devil Wears Prada, her famous scathing monologue on colour is essential viewing*. It takes you on a breathless journey from the couturier Oscar de la Renta’s use of cerulean, to the colour’s appearance the clearance bin of Casual Corner many months later. Her fury is directed at Andy, the film’s protagonist, who chuckles because she thinks two blue belts look the same. Miranda disagrees. Colour is nothing to laugh about. Colour is a serious business.

So, knowing it’s impact across the fashion industry, you may also be interested to learn that cerulean was the inaugural Pantone Colour of the Year back in 2000. Coincidence? Absolutely not. When Pantone announces their Colour of the Year, it is tempting to be like Andy and simply dismiss it as an annual colour-centric publicity stunt. But it’s selection and release has far reaching impact across multiple trend streams – from the clothes you wear, to the food you eat, how your home looks and so much in between. It affects the things you buy and even what you pay for them. With so much at stake, how does it even happen?

A selection of cosmetics and make-up brushes lying on a crimson/magenta table. There are also sparkles and glitter on the table.

From cosmetics to couches, over the next year Viva Magenta will filter into the mainstream and have influence on everything from the clothes we wear to the way we decorate our homes.

Firstly, it has a long run up. In the months ahead of the announcement, there are the secret gatherings. Yes, you read that correctly: secret gatherings. These are held twice a year in a European capital and are attended by representatives of colour standards groups from around the world. The assembled experts spend two days presenting, analysing and debating before selecting the following year’s colour. This might sound straightforward enough, but it’s a task that needs to acknowledge and consider every possible type of global trend before forecasting what should come next. What they’re seeking is the point of lift off – the equivalent of that millisecond on the trampoline where you’ve landed, bounced and suddenly know your direction of travel. And to find it, they need to explore everything that has come immediately before – global attitudes, political shifts, emerging technologies, cultural temperature, as well as what’s happening in food, cinema, interiors, graphic design, social media and, of course, fashion.

So, Viva Magenta was chosen around a year ago to reflect the colour and emotional mood of the world in 2023. “An unconventional shade for an unconventional time,” said Leatrice Eiseman, International Colour Expert and Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, when announcing Viva Magenta on Instagram. It’s a big decision to take, so far ahead of time. Especially when you consider the implications. Of course, this decision is not held in a locked box for the months leading up to the announcement. This is the point at which collaborations and potential licensing negotiations must begin in readiness for the launch. For example, 2022’s Colour of the Year, found itself across the Microsoft Office ecosystem, through Teams backgrounds, browser themes, wallpapers and templates. Motorola too released a Very Peri edition of their edge 30 and are doing the same for Viva Magenta. These partnerships between huge organisations take considerable time.

A close up of a deep crimson/magenta sofa with two cushions upon it.

While Viva Magenta is likely to have an impact on the real world, it will also have an effect on the choices we make in our immersive environments. A Viva Magenta couch for your avatar? Why not?

This also may go some way to explaining why certain celebrities started showing up to events and parties over the summer in this unusual crimson-red hue. In amongst the sea of ‘Barbiecore’ it stood out as something of a statement. And now we know what that statement was: I am in the know. It’s not just clothing, however, that benefits from the announcement. Across every kind of design, the quiet waves of Viva Magenta that were gently lapping from June to December have already become a surge. The travel media are sharing locations where you can find it in nature (good for the Insta, right?). You can sample Viva Magenta cocktails across New York. Want Viva Magenta cake or macarons? Wallpaper? Art prints? Hair? Sneakers? Fabric? Not a problem, they’re all there waiting for you. But this doesn’t happen overnight, and many more products will continue to be produced as demand requires – demand that is stimulated by influencers across every conceivable industry unobtrusively using Viva Magenta in their creations, designs and lifestyles.

However, by far the biggest and most ambitious activation for Pantone was 10,000 square feet of multisensory immersive exhibition at the famous Miami Beach art fair, Art Basel. Costing a million dollars and spanning two floors, it was part of a ‘Welcome to the #magentaverse’ concept, which is accompanied by a metaverse experience created using the AI tool Midjourney. “If you look back to 15 years ago, technology would have played an infinitesimal role. Today that is no longer the case,” explains Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute in an interview on their website. “Gaming, social media, AR and physical design itself are all influenced by our technology and the colours we can access in the digital environment.” It’s a clear signal that Pantone is seeking to solidify their societal relevance when society is changing and making their brand decisions with the metaverse in mind may well prove to be a savvy decision.

“That blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs,” says Miranda Priestly gently smirking, her words hitting like an iron fist in a velvet glove as she walks towards Andy. Switch “that blue” from Pantone in 2000 for “that magenta” today and the effect is identical. Colour is fun, it should be joyful and enjoyed. But it’s also a serious business. Seriously big business.

*If you’re not familiar (how?), it’s probably a good idea to watch Miranda’s epic monologue in full here.

Sarah Vloothuis Senior Manager External Communications

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