Color Theory: Opposite Attraction

Complementary Colors Found in Nature

As the economy recovers and consumers return to shopping, Pantone forecasts the rise of complementary colors in 2011 and accessories stand to benefit. Jeff Prine gets under the shades

Even the most colorblind among us know that during turbulent times consumers tend to play it safe—they stick with classics and neutrals in their purchases, hoping they’ll weather the storm.

But don’t expect a downpour of blacks, browns, taupes and beiges come next year. Just as Wall Street analysts and retail financials are indicating, the consumer is once again spending—albeit cautiously—as the economy seems to tip toe rather than leap upward.

However calculating she is about her purchases, the consumer may be just as cautious about color in her next purchase.

“There are two main points that come out when you look at how the recession has affected consumers,” says Leatrice Eiseman, one of the leading color gurus and the executive director at the Pantone Color Institute.

“First, as consumers begin spending again on big ticket purchases—whether it’s a car or a new business suit—they are turning toward a more neutral palette.” An observation that makes sense given all the recent data about investment purchasing: consumers are willing to spend but they want something with longevity

‘Accessories Are Still the Standard Bearer of Color’

Nonetheless, Eiseman says playing it safe with color “doesn’t really apply to accessories classifications,” especially when looking at the big picture for 2011 as forecast in Pantone’s latest Color Planner S/S 2011.

"We know that when warm colors are combined with cool colors, they become more vibrant," says Leatrice Eiseman, color guru at Pantone

“In fact, it’s the opposite effect—accessories are still the standard bearer for color. Even though the recession continues to affect how consumers spend, they will indulge in colors—and are more open to buying vibrant colors—in accessories. 2011 is going to be a very good time for accessories.” That goes for even the most expensive accessories, too.

“Accessories are less expensive in relation to investment pieces,” Eiseman says. “Someone may love purple, but when it comes to buying a car, they’re going toward pewter, gray, black. The color will show up in less expensive buys such as accessories.”

Moreover, there isn’t a single color palette or color family that can be singled out as the new “it” color, Pantone predicts. Instead, the main story is about how color is being used.

“We’re forecasting a rise in complementary color—colors from opposite sites of the spectrum being paired together.”

As stated in Pantone’s 2011 report: Red speaks with green. Yellow converses with violet. Blue falls in love with orange.

“The economy isn’t going to get better overnight, we all know that by now,” Eiseman says. “So it’s even more important than ever to get the consumers’ attention by using complementary color combinations. ‘Wow! I never thought of using tomato red with hunter green.’

“It doesn’t look like Christmas, rather combining complementary colors allow consumers to look at colors differently than they may have before.”

By showing the balance and symmetry between opposite colors, retailers give permission to use combinations they may not have thought of before. “We know that many women are ‘shopping’ out of their closets—taking their classic black slacks and gray skirts and wearing them season after season. Think about how you can refresh them with an opposite color combination.”

While pairing colors with their “opposites” may sound to some like trying to mix oil and water, Pantone shows them in combination with shades that blend together: “By coordinating this palette with black, white or tertiary and neutral colors, we modulate bright colors so they pacify rather than stand out.”

‘Vivid Colors Will Make Consumers Stop in Their Tracks’

Take yellow and purple: Pantone combines golden yellow shades with midtone lavenders in what is called the “Exquisite” palette. “Exclusive” combines hunter greens with spicy reds. Orange and blue combinations might sound like sport team colors, but Pantone mixes apricot with medium blues in “Expressive.”

Nor is this upcoming rise in complementary combinations a utilization of color psychology or theory to entice consumers to buy. “Actually this is more the ‘physiology of color.’ We know that when warm colors are combined with cool colors, they become more vibrant. Red is never redder than when it is combined with green. Such opposite combinations give consumers a reason to buy something that’s fun and a way to make an investment piece pop with a colorful belt or other accessory.”

That’s not to say that classic, neutral colors won’t exist in accessories, but “vivid combinations will make consumers stop in their tracks,” Eiseman says.

In fact, Eiseman advocates using these same complementary colors at point of sale, including visual displays and merchandising, store graphics, on websites and in catalogs. “Space is always at a premium in store, but it will be more important than ever to show these combinations at retail. Combine merchandise from different categories together in vignettes—and online where there’s more “space” to tell the color story.

Coordinate complementary colors with white or neutrals

In fact, the advance of technology making consumers more aware of color. “Whether you’re talking about the latest iPad, high definition TV or 3D, color is being communicated much more intensely than in the past. Consumers are more aware of color—even if coming to them in a subliminal way over the web,” Eiseman says. The latest laptops, smart phones, mp3 players and other state-of-the-art gadgetry has had a subliminal effect on fashion, too. Eiseman says new technologies have helped expand metallics in fashion applications, enabling the fashion industry to expand into new finishes, surface techniques, patinas and burnished metal effects that can be applied to leathers, jewelry and hardware metals.

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Jeff Prine

Jeff Prine, Editor at Large, Accessories Magazine
Jeff returns as a regular contributor to Accessories magazine. Initially Jeff worked as senior editor at Accessories more than 20 years ago and his love of the industry has followed him until present. Since his tenure here, Jeff has continued to report jewelry, watch and other luxury goods trends as executive editor at Modern Jeweler magazine, fashion director at Lustre, and as contributor on products and trends for consumer and trade publications and websites. In addition to his editorial experience, Jeff also served as an adjunct instructor for accessories merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology. jeffp@busjour.com