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Utility and Psychedelics Define Color Trends for Spring/Summer 2021

It’s been more than a month since Pantone chose not one, but two colors to mark the emergence from the most volatile year in recent history. Its selection of both Ultimate Gray and Illuminating yellow pointed to a hope for optimism and silver linings in the new year, and demonstrated the concept of working together to overcome hardship.

The same social factors that inspired the year’s color duo are the same elements that triggered a series of color palettes that Pantone experts say are destined for popularity throughout the year. In a webinar on Tuesday, the color institute and trend forecasting firm Heuritech co-presented some of the most meaningful color stories shaping this year’s collections.

During times of crisis, society often resorts to survival mode—and fashion follows with utilitarian elements such as zippers, pockets and other functional features. Pantone’s “reworked utility” color palette encompasses this shift, defined by nature- and camo-inspired tones like khaki, gray, olive and black, and punctuated with what it calls “Puffin’s Bill” orange. Burberry showcased this range in its Spring/Summer 2021 runway show, which took place in a forest to reinforce the message of rugged endurance.

According to Julie Pont, fashion and creative director at Heuritech, nature was a major source of inspiration for designers suddenly left without their usual creative devices. “As a consequence of being locked down for months on hand, it is logical that designers were heavily inspired by the natural world since S/S ’21 was the first major fashion week following the [onset] of the pandemic,” she said.

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Pantone vice president Laurie Pressman added that the color story’s bright orange hue offers a vibrant change of pace that offsets the otherwise muted palette. She suggested it be worn either as an accent piece or a monochrome look.

On the other end of the spectrum, a series of global crises can also trigger a softness in society. Pantone honored this collective vulnerability with a “fragrance beyond fashion” range of muted colors that evoke an uplifting, mystical and futuristic feeling.

Labels such as Acne Studios, Eirocori and Coperni featured these shades in their S/S ’21 shows, characterized by soft lilacs, greens and pinks, and balanced by pops of bright blue and red—accents that experts say give it a more genderless appeal. One of the standout colors in this palette is Lavender Aura, a combination of light gray and purple that acts as an elevated neutral.

Pantone and trend forecasting solution Heuritech co-presented color trends for 2021, influenced by utility and psychedelics.
Acne Studios, S/S ’21 Giovanni Giannoni/WWD

Escapism is another response to recent events, as demonstrated by the rise in popularity of 19th century drama “Bridgerton” and a collective shift to brighter, more cheerful colors to distract from the chaos of reality. Pantone’s “acid trip” color palette offers yet another escape, inviting the world into a kaleidoscope of cool, vibrant tones like lime green, teal and deep purple, and punctuated by a warm pop of bright pink.

Together, the colors evoke a soothing, psychedelic effect and showed up in swirling, abstract patterns in collections from Bottega Veneta and Raf Simons. Rouge red, the warmest color of the palette, contrasts the cool tones and underscores the hot pink movement documented by global fashion search platform Lyst in December.

Pantone and Heuritech also noted the need for a grounding palette that could serve as a timeless color collection for years to come. Its “growing” range incorporates calming earth tones such as heather gray, olive green, burnt orange and browns that appeal to all genders and ages. The collection is anchored by what Pantone calls Lion, a light neutral brown that offers richness and balance.

In addition to the soothing color palettes of its growing palette, Pantone offered words of reassurance for the rest of the fashion community.

“The past is not coming back,” Pressman said. “We all need to reset to reimagine, to reinvent, and unleash the energy of creativity and goodness that we all have within us to rebuild a new Utopia.”