Coloring Under the Influence – How Pantone’s Color System Became Fashion Law

by Alexis Ansley

Have you ever wondered how the fashion industry determines the season’s “hottest” colors, or how interior designers know exactly how to pair colors and prints? In the world of art and design, Pantone Universal, an international color matching system and corporation, has established itself as the go-to entity for all things color. Over the last fifty years, Pantone has helped make color uniformly accessible for all artists.


The Beginning

Pantone began in the 1950’s by printing color guides for cosmetic companies. They utilized and mixed sixty different pigments to create the colors they wanted. This system of creating colors was not standard, however, and different printing locations created different versions of a specific color.


Pantone’s Rising Standard

In 1956, chemist Lawrence Herbert started working for Pantone to make some extra money before going off to medical school. Soon, he became extremely interested in his work at Pantone and decided to pursue a permanent career with the company. In 1962, Herbert bought the printing division of Pantone and began refining the color matching system.

Pantone Chairman, President and CEO Lawrence Herbert

Pantone Chairman, President and CEO Lawrence Herbert


Herbert found a way to reduce the Pantone color basics from sixty pigments to ten, which became the standard components of all colors. This advancement in color technology was called the Pantone Matching System.

Pantone's color books are used by paint and color companies te world over


Since the Pantone Matching System’s inception, colors have become more accessible to all. Imagine a color you choose at the Home Depot in hopes of giving your bedroom a face-lift. That specific color, since it’s now standardized, can be easily recreated for you or anyone who wants to use it.


Pantone + Fashion

Fashion, being one of the most intricate forms of art, naturally has a strong connection to the Pantone brand and its system of color-coding. More specifically, Pantone’s “Color of the Year” heavily influences fashion trends for the year.

Each year Pantone, in collaboration with heads of international color organizations, choose a color they feel will be most influential and used throughout the year, thus setting the tone for design and art designers everywhere. They also forecast color trends for each season. Many designers will wait for the official Pantone color forecast before producing a collection of work. This year’s color of the year is “Radiant Orchid,” which they describe as “an expressive, creative and embracing purple.”

Pantone's 2014 Color of the Year: Radiant Orchid


One of the most culturally impactful colors in fashion history emerged in 2012 with Pantone’s “Tangerine Tango.” This vibrant color was seen in high fashion editorials, discount clothing, on couture runways and most notably a full line of cosmetics at Sephora done in direct collaboration with Pantone named the “Sephora + Pantone Universe Collection.”

Spring and Summer 2012 runway fashions in Tangerine Tango by Alexander McQueen, Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Dior, and Balenciaga


A single color has the power to evoke different emotions in us, can help shape our moods and even represent our personalities. Pantone has helped to standardize the color making process, and in doing so has made way for endless creativity in terms of developing art in all its forms.


What are your thoughts on the 2014 color of the year? What color evokes the greatest reaction in you? Let me know in a comment below.


Image Sources:

Lawrence Herbert photo: Pantone

Pantone color books splayed: TPI Solutions Ink

Pantone’s 2014 Color of the Year:

Tangerine tango catwalk panel image:



Alexis AnsleyAbout the Author:
Alexis Ansley is a Central Florida fashion blogger, fashion consultant and co-founder of Lex&Pooch Styling Co. An avid enthusiast for all things vintage, Alexis has made a name for herself by uniquely combining vintage and contemporary styles within her personal fashion choices and while styling clients. Alexis is a member of the Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB) community and work towards bringing fresh and unique fashions to the forefront of all her style ventures.



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