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Pantone Names ‘Uplifting’ Duo for Color of the Year 2021

If Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2020—the ever-calming Classic Blue—was a preemptive choice for what unraveled into a chaotic year, its choice for 2021 points to a strong will for finding silver linings and more optimistic days ahead.

The color specialist announced Wednesday that it has selected a duo of colors, Pantone 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and Pantone 13-0647 Illuminating, as the Pantone Color of the Year for 2021. Described as two independent colors that come together to create an “aspirational color pairing,” the colors express feelings of cautious optimism for 2021, it said.

The colors, Pantone stated, represent the ways people are seeking to fortify themselves with energy, clarity and hope to overcome uncertainty. Mimicking the colors of pebbles on a beach and natural elements that withstand the test of time, Ultimate Gray provides a firm foundation that is dependable and resilient. Illuminating, a bright and cheerful solar yellow, counters the soft gray with its sparkling and warming qualities.

“Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit,” said Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone Color Institute executive director.

Either color can take precedence for apparel, beauty, home, product design or packaging.

In apparel, Pantone says Illuminating punctuated by a touch of Ultimate Gray conveys a “message of sunshine and strength,” particularly in accessories like scarves, footwear and handbags. The duo is an “energetic” combination for activewear, and provides a high-visibility contrast for outerwear.

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Both colors were prominent on the Spring/Summer 2021 runway—together and independently.

Blumarine keyed into Illuminating’s playful side by using the color for satin ruffle tops and separates lavishly trimmed with yellow feathers. The color enlivened minimalistic dresses by Alice + Olivia and fuss-free suiting by Anteprima. Illuminating was also the backdrop to Dice Kayek’s brocade suiting, Etro’s summery taffeta gowns and Givenchy’s crystal-embellished cutout column dresses. Meanwhile, Altuzarra, Dries Van Noten and Kenzo were among the designers to apply the color the ethereal sheer fabrics.

Acne Studio and Fendi both opted for sheer Ultimate Gray in their collections, creating a smoke effect on dresses and men’s shirting, jackets and shorts. Designers experimented with the color’s reflective properties in different ways. Dsquared2 presented a silver gray reflective flight suit for men, while Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood channeled with ’80s with a gray taffeta strapless cocktail dress. Ultimate Gray was also a popular choice for more staid suiting and casual sets, including Balmain’s homage to Y2K fashion, Salvatore Ferragamo’s boxy separates and Jacquemus’ chopped-up wool suiting.

And then there were those designers that used the color combination. Yellow blooms emboldened Act No.1’s pajama-like gray silk garments. Ermenegildo Zegna applied the colors to knits with a pixelated pattern. Hermès combined the colors on its equestrian print top and GCDS blended the colors in tie-dye tops and bottoms.

Others focused on color blocking. Ester Manas mixed fashion genres by pairing a belted Ultimate Gray workwear jacket with a sheer ruched Illuminating skirt. Illuminating provided a base layer to Prada’s pleated Ultimate Gray midi skirts and cutout knits. Spyder balanced its yellow tracksuits with metallic gray sports bras.

In beauty, the colors may translate to a mix of warm and cool tones in hair and nail trends. Pantone noted that Illuminating sparkles and shimmers when paired with Ultimate Gray in eye makeup.

For home, juxtaposing Illuminating with Ultimate Gray in table linens, sheeting and home accessories including pillows and tabletop “infuses vitality and liveliness,” Pantone stated. A bright yellow door, meanwhile, exudes a warm welcoming message when its supported by Ultimate Gray exterior finishes. The color combination works for offices as well with Ultimate Gray providing the firm foundation for Illuminating’s ability to light the “way to intellectual curiosity, originality and resourcefulness of an open mind,” Pantone stated.

In packaging, Pantone noted that the colors send a visibly noticeable message about reliability and wisdom.

Pantone will bring Ultimate Gray and Illuminating to life in an immersive experience in New York City in early 2021. The firm is working with Artechouse, a digital art group, to immerse people in the colors through a unique augmented reality experience.