Tangerine Tango: A color for these times?

The International Home and Housewares Show kicks off in Chicago tomorrow, and product designers will be eagerly awaiting the color palette Leatrice Eiseman will present. She's executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

March 8, 2012

By Ashley Gross

Pantone Color Institute's 2012 Color of the Year

Say you went out on the street and asked people what color they'd choose to describe our economy. Gray, maybe? Beige?

You probably wouldn't get a ton of people saying "tangerine tango." But people of 2012, slogging your way through an uneven economy, that's exactly the shade of reddish-orange that the Pantone Color Institute says is the Color of the Year.

Leatrice Eiseman, the brains (and eyes) behind the Pantone Color of the Year, says she wants to tap into our collective Zeitgeist. But if the Zeitgeist is grouchy or dejected or feeling cash-strapped, she wants to pick a color that can cheer us up.

"We do a lot of research on what we feel is going to be the color that will best symbolize what people need at the moment," Eiseman said. "Not necessarily the mood of the moment, but how they can enhance their mood."

Eiseman will be a big draw at this year's International Home and Housewares Show, starting Saturday at McCormick Place in Chicago. It's expected to draw 60,000 people. Eiseman will be presenting her color palette for 2013 on Monday in what organizers are billing as one of the highlights of the show.

I tried to get Eiseman to tip her hand a bit and let us know what shades to expect next year in everything from curtains to toasters to lipstick, but she stayed mum.

Maybe you're not familiar with the concept of a "color of the year." But everyone from product designers to fashion mavens pays close attention to the shade chosen each year by Pantone, which in 1963 created a system for matching color that's helped to standardize and categorize different shades.

To figure out which color will most resonate each year, Eiseman says she pays attention to everything from movies (especially animation for kids) to what's going on in the fashion world to upcoming art exhibits. The current craze for orange was something that she started to spot years ago on travels in Asia, where she says she was taken with the saffron-colored robes of Buddhist monks, and in Latin America, where the color is used a lot.

"It's the brightness level of the oranges that's been so fascinating to me, in addition to the way the orange is combined," Eiseman said. "One of the most fascinating is to use the oranges, which are very hot colors, along with colors like turquoises and royal blues, which are completely opposite on the color wheel and yet make for some very startling and innovative color combinations."

How do you become an international color expert? Eiseman gives a lot of credit to her mom, who gave Eiseman free rein over the colors in her room at the tender age of eight. Every two years, Eiseman would redo her walls and her furniture. At age 12, she got on a "Chinese kick" and painted her room black, white and red, which she says turned out to be her favorite. Her mom was the inspiration for all this chromatic creativity.

"My mother was a demon with the paintbrush," Eiseman said. "Rather than spring cleaning, she'd freshen up the house with a new can of paint. Even our old upright piano got a new coat of paint every spring. My friends loved to come over because they never knew what kind of bizarre things were going to go on at my house."