We live in a world that is defined by color. No matter who you are, where or how you live, or your physical, mental or spiritual requirements, the importance of color and the power it has within your daily life cannot be underestimated.

A fundamental element to the human experience, color is the visual cue that draws us in to feel a connection with our environment and the things we love.

This story first appeared in the February 10, 2016 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The foundation of our world, the resonance of any shade across the spectrum shifts and develops, according to the context in which it appears. A continual source of fascination, throughout time we have utilized this powerful communication tool to express our ideas, emotions and identity. From the psychedelic Sixties to the grunge movement in the Nineties, societal shifts have shaped our relationship with color and this universal, yet silent language has played an integral role in conveying the attitudes and sentiments of a particular moment in time.

To highlight the connection between color and culture, each year the Pantone Color Institute selects a Pantone Color of the Year. A symbolic snapshot of what the Pantone Color Institute color experts see taking place in the cultural zeitgeist at a moment in time, the color selection reflects what people are looking for, a need that color can help to answer. We see it building in fashion, which is always a big influence when it comes to trend, but it is also a color we see crossing all areas of design, one that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude on the part of the consumers.

For example, for the initial selection in 1999, Pantone 15-4020, Cerulean, a hopeful and reassuring blue shade, was selected as the color of the New Millennium. Long linked to the serenity of a clear blue sky, the human mind embraces the concept of blue as tranquil and constant, translating this color range into a symbolic image of dependability and trust. You can surely recall the mood of the nation as we entered into this paradoxical time; heading toward an uncertain yet exciting future (Y2K), and also looking back, trying to hold onto the security of the past; many were searching for solace and dependability and the calming Cerulean Blue offered the perfect antidote.

And just as our lives have evolved since 1999, so have our choices in color. For 2016, there are a number of trends influencing and impacting color trends, one of which is the quickly accelerating rise of the gender blur that has turned androgyny into the epitome of fashion. No longer is pink just for girls, or blue intended purely for boys; instead there is a more gender-neutral or unilateral approach to color. Fashion and celebrity have long embraced androgyny; think of the international conversation led by the late design icon David Bowie or the impact of Yves Saint Laurent’s famous “Le Smoking” tuxedo for women. You can even refer to the Eighties — Calvin Klein was king of gender-neutral design (a foundation that the brand has continued to build its business on) and taking one look at Gucci’s 1996 campaign or the Blumarine campaign from 1994, among countless others, you’ll see these lines have been crossing for some time.

While we have been here before, I think what we are experiencing today is a bit different. What we are talking about now has proliferated throughout many more levels of society and we’ve seen a lot more social change since the last time we went down this path.

Granted, there is still work to be done. Women are increasingly taking on more powerful roles in the workforce and men are embracing new roles that may have been traditionally considered feminine in nature. As a result, there has been a real reassessment of work/life balance for men.

Less concerned about being typecast or judged, customary approaches are being thrown on their head and men are enjoying a newfound creative freedom when it comes to their fashion choices (see: men’s wear sales are booming). From delicate and fragile pale blues to red-based purples and orange-based reds; not-your-typical-male shades are now staples in men’s wear palettes. And pinks! From the palest pinks that are barely there to those that are bold and bright, men’s embrace of pink is enabling this color family to lose its distinction as a female shade, a position it has held since being tagged the color of femininity in the Fifties, and increase its popularity across all product categories.

When we chose our Pantone Color of the Year selection for 2016, the spectrum of identity and gender was something that could not be ignored based on what we saw happening in our global culture. If you happened to have missed it, for the first time ever it seemed perfectly natural for our selection to be not just one color but, instead, the fusion of two shades: Serenity, a calm and tranquil blue, and Rose Quartz, an embracing gentle rose tone. Joined together this harmonious pairing of the cool Serenity and the warmer Rose Quartz conveys a message of connection and balance as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.

For some, the pairing challenged the more accepted perceptions around color association — were we saying now that pink is for boys and blue is for girls? Did we mean to blend the two together to symbolize the changing definition of “identity” that is occurring on a global scale? It may have conveyed a different meaning for different people and that is the point — to start a conversation, to evoke emotion and opinion around color.

While there are other indicators in addition to color that reflect what is happening in our culture at a particular moment in time, what is certain is that this new color attitude is increasingly significant to the way manufacturers and retailers will be buying and merchandising product. Taking place at all levels of the market around the world, even touching on the kids’ market, the impact of these changes in approach will be felt for years to come.

In the end, what we are talking about here is a revolt against more rigid gender codes and the acceptance of choice. Today’s genderless styling is most definitely a more modern approach than in the past, one that is not necessarily about trying to make a man look like a woman or a woman look like a man but instead about creating a colorful canvas that can be adapted to any style.

Laurie Pressman is vice president of the Pantone Color Institute. She has 20 years of experience in product development and merchandising.

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