Monday, October 4

Old Becomes New Again

As we've discussed on eInvite's Insights before, Pantone releases a color forecast seasonally, twice a year. The fall 2010 colors are a wonderfully muted, yet rich, palette of natural hues. They are:
As I began to play around with combinations and screens, I thought I would look at some of Pantone's own libraries regarding these colors, and discovered something interesting: Lipstick Red 19-1764 was the one of the textile colors of the year... in 1997. Needless to say, that got me curious. How was Lipstick Red being used in fashion more than a decade ago? Was it a pop color? Was it a hue applied universally as a base for furniture colorways? Where was it and how did it play?

It's worth noting that Lipstick Red is a perennial favor of the Pantone staff, and shows up every few years in one industry or another, so it's no shock for a currently forecasted color to show up years before. What struck me is that some of the color forecast information in 1997 was still floating around the internet. So, off we go to investigate!

It didn't take long to dredge up reporting on design back in 1997; the New York Magazine was particularly helpful in identifying textile and interior use of 19-1764. I noticed that Lipstick Red was favored as an accent color for doorways and large interior objects:

image from The Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spas

Old becomes new again through some slight styling changes and an emphasis on woods and natural tones, rather than the more stark and hard materials of the 1990s, featured by the architect Barbara Bestor in a variety of design journalists earlier this year:

image from Barbara Bestor's BESTOR ARCHITECTURE

It's interesting that while the materials, and particularly the light design, have changed, some of the basic design aspects have not. We still see a lot of metal mixed with wood: a juxtaposition of human-made materials with human-shaped materials. Though the two images above are distinctly different in taste, you can no doubt see similarities in the treatment of space (light makes a big difference here!).

Interior design was not the only design quarter to see Lipstick Red in decades-long rotation. The AIDs awareness campaigns that dominated popular culture in the 1980s continued on through the 1990s and, as AIDs awareness was often important to the design community, the red AIDs ribbon showed up both as a literal object and as a cultural color. The Red Ribbon Project was created in 1991 and continues to be a recognizable object in today's culture.

Ralph Lauren showcased a few powerful reds that were very close, if not exactly, Lipstick Red in his 1995 fall collection:

Ralph Lauren 1995 Fall Collection

Then, more than a decade later, Nicole Kidman shattered the Oscars with this red Balenciaga, analogous to similar trends in the 1990s:

Nicole Kidman, style by Phillip Bloch in 2007, in red Balenciaga

Of course, a reasonable argument is that anyone can pick and choose through history to create a design narrative, but I think it's clear that both the color and the application have a real history in our design culture. One of the great challenges that creatives and designers have is recognizing the difference between popular and timeless design. This difference is often was separates good designers and great designers.

The same goes for print design. When looking to purchase something that's meant to memorialize a moment in life, both designers and customers have to figure out whether their style is something that is nuanced but unchanging through time, or if it bends and sways with the trends of the day. Both are perfectly acceptable! Predicting time is the hardest thing anyone can try to do.

Our advice is never to try and guess what the future may hold. When buying something you intend to cherish for generations, make sure it's an honest reflection of who you are and what you love: about this moment, about the event, about life. Stay true to this and when you look back in twenty years, you won't have to say, "What was I thinking?!"

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