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Color Factory: Denim Takes a Spin on the Color Wheel

Color is washing over men’s and women’s apparel and denim. And it may just be the instant mood enhancer the depressed global retail landscape needs. From Rachel Comey’s green denim boat neck tops and matching carrot-cut jeans, to Brazilian brand John John’s tie-dye denim boiler suits, brands this year are inciting denim collections with a filter of intense and youthful color.

“After the recession we saw the premium denim bubble burst and that’s when the denim brands that survived updated styles with more fashion-driven trends such as color or prints,” said Melissa Moylan, Fashion Snoops VP creative director-women’s wear. “The application of color adds an update to denim that entices the customer and gives them a new reason to buy.”

Social hues

Edited has been tracking the interest in color denim for several seasons. While indigo, black and gray continue to mean big business for denim retailers, the retail data firm sees a “slight decline” in the number of new arrivals of traditional denim colors in the U.S. The standouts to watch, according Edited market analyst Kayla Marci, have been the hues influenced by the trends from runway shows and social media. “Last year, neon bubbled up to mass market retail after its undeniable impact from the likes of the Kardashians, which then affected the color scheme of spring denim buys,” she said.

With Instagram accounts dedicated to color and a plethora of color enhancing apps and filters at users’ fingertips, colorful fashion has found a stage on social media. “Standing out is key on social media, so influencers tend to gravitate to messages that are typically considered more novelty and less commercial,” Moylan said. “Color messages are attention-grabbing and turn mainstream audiences on to new and exciting colors.”

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Color trends

Color denim is connected to the comeback of ’80s and ’90s fashion. As denim brands move away from Western and workwear, Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, says designers are revisiting some key influences from the decades, including acid washes, tie-dye, over-dyes, grunge and skate culture. “The result will be the return of colored denim,” she added.

However, the trend re-emerges with slight differences. Unlike the denim of the ’90s which Mitchell Kass, owner and creative director of Trend Council, says was actually dyed cotton twill and bull denim, in 2019 he sees “more processed denim including bleaching, enzyme or acid washing and then an over dyed color making more of a textured effect.”

Première Vision fashion director Pascaline Wilhelm predicts a multicolor season, “with either intense and luminous blues or fresh pale tones and increasingly subtle graduated shades, seen in really skilfully elaborated watercolor tones, gentle and uniform washes, or, for the immediate fashion market, to be worked in tie-dyes.”

Red—a color trend spurred by the 2018 Women’s March—has been a strong color for the past several seasons. However, Fashion Snoops’ forecast for Spring ’19 denim favors less saturated hues and fresh pastels. The firm is also excited about tie-dye and ombré dyes. “Although they are primarily print driven, when applied to denim, dye effects are an emerging trend that takes colored denim to the next level,” Moylan said.

Earthy colorways are gaining traction, too. Kass says the remainder of the year will show more toned down hues like mauves and nude tones for women and more organic colors like olive and taupe for men.

color denim
Earthy colors are trending in 2019.

With organic statements pervading fashion, Pantone expects off-whites and light neutrals will come into play. “Less structured fashion styling and casual looks come through in heavily washed or lightweight fabrics that retain their authentic denim look,” Pressman said. “Utilitarian statements highlight color blocking while tactility is displayed in textural looks like geometric jacquards.”

Likewise, Edited is starting to see a swing into a more sobering color palette driven by off-white, ecru and beige tones. Khaki color denim is picking up momentum, while bright hues like candy pink are losing ground to Pantone’s Color of 2019 “Living Coral” and its lilac predecessor. The colors have cropped up at Gap, Monki and Nasty Gal in jeans and trucker jackets, Marci added.

“We began to clock commercial success in neutrals, especially in women’s denim assortments where there’s been a 13 percent uptick of new styles compared to 2018,” she explained. “Based on the color scheme of the men’s wear and women’s wear Fall 2019 shows, we can expect this trend to continue to grow throughout the year.”

Color is important in men’s categories. However, Marci said it has experienced recent discounts in fast fashion so investments need to be made wisely. Mass-market skinny jeans is another area she urges brands to “approach with caution.”

Color connection

An injection of color is also an easy way for brands to update bestsellers, which bodes well for brands as the current wave of color trends has staying power. While “millennial pink” may not be as pervasive as it once was, Pressman says wearing the rose color does not necessarily mean you’re out of style. “In fact, it can be perceived as exactly the opposite—that you have the confidence to express who you are and exactly the way you want to be seen,” she said.

And in fashion, color is a form of communication and expression. “Color is important to everyone, regardless of gender identity and expression, because it is a key mode of how we express ourselves,” Pressman said. “The colors that you choose to reflect yourself are deeply personal, and we’ve seen that traditional gendered color choices are falling away as people have come to embrace color more fully.”

“Color is the first thing human beings register visually, so color has an enormous bearing on the physiological and emotional influences of purchasing,” she added. “Color is one of the most important design elements that an apparel brand can harness to convey specific messages and meanings, to align with fashion trends and to express their brand personality.”

This feature appears in the latest issue of Rivet. Click here to read more.