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Style / Your denim is not my Niagara, Pantone

Pantone's much-anticipated "colors of the year"

For power, blend with black, white or gray_ wallpaper and chair by AC Creations, wire basket by Firm Living, textiles by John Robshaw, and Pantone's Niagara swatch

Photos provided by Pantone


Yes! They called it Niagara. Exciting news. “Comfortable and dependable,” the release began. “Niagara leads the Pantone Fashion Color Report as the most prevalent color for spring 2017.” Now there is some fabulous, cost-effective publicity for our region. The experts and algorithms at the Pantone color institute used our region’s name. 


Then I read on:

“Niagara is a classic denim-like blue that speaks to our desire for ease and relaxation.” This is so great, I continued thinking, except ... wait. I retraced the words. Comfort. Ease. Relaxation. Denim-like. Something was off. None of these quite fit. Niagara, or at least the Niagara I know, is about power and wonder, one of those landscapes that reaches up or down or across enough to take the population’s collective breath away. Like rocky mountains and grand canyons, the Niagara region gives us big geology lessons, and more. We also get whopping voltage. I could not connect readily to Pantone’s descriptors, “ease.” The colors of denim and denim-like fabrics are comforting, true, but the blues of the Niagara whirlpools are darker and colder, a warning; on an overcast day, the river swirls together limestone and slate-gray. You can even see black. Pure torque. No ease. No comfort. On bright days, it always looks turquoise at that point where the water crests over the Falls, that point right where  it begins to thunder down and carbonate into white. The blue of the Pantone Niagara color swatch suggested to me that whoever was in charge of choosing the name never saw the Falls. One neutral shade of blue could never get this job done. 


Five swatches from Pantone's 2017 collection


The Swedes have a word for blue. It is spelled using letters we do not have in America, and pronounced blow, as if forming your lips around a straw. The word began, way back when, as a reference to an almost black, as if any word used to describe water should be associated both with darkness and the wind that propels us across it. France’s bleu sounds more optimistic. It sounds more like a sky whose storm has passed. Which blue does Pantone mean? The one where the storm is still raging, or the blue of sunshine on flower boxes? Naming this neutral blue Niagara seems to guarantee what many other ever-so-clever color names do: the frustrated utterance, “I didn’t mean that blue!” 


Pantone did better with its 2017 Color of the Year. That distinction went to Greenery,  a name that seems placed squarely within the green section of the color wheel. Green is the color of foliage that covers a lot of Ireland, or maybe the image-flash that you get when you read the word “eco.” Greenery is not quite that. It is a smidge more yellow than blue. It is the color of a houseplant that has been slightly overwatered, or a lawn that is thirsty in August. It is more of a Midwest August green than Great Lakes December green, but, at least with a name like Greenery, we get closer to intention. 


A Lily Pulitzer pillow;  Decorating with Pantone’s Greenery and Flame, with undertones of Hazelnut


The other notable Pantone colors for spring include Primrose Yellow (French’s mustard-lite), Flame (a mid-point sunset red), Pale Dogwood (pale pink, only paler), and Kale. I love that we have a color called Kale. In the old days, Crayola would have called it Anxious Spinach, one of three unused crayons in the box. Pantone aligned Kale next to another of this season’s bests, Hazelnut. There must be a food-based connection here because Hazelnut looks positively delicious next to Kale. 


But, again, Kale is not intense enough to help us shake off February. Greenery may be a tough color for many of us to wear, but the touch of bright, crisp yellow in Pantone’s Color of the Year can brighten any room. You can tell because of how we say it. Words like dogwood and hazelnut are mumbly. Kale and dogwood and hazelnut and Niagara are calm words to pronounce. But when we say Greenery, our mouths do something special. Maybe, as with bleu and blow, there is a reason our lips must work the way they do with those old words. 


Whenever we say green, we have to smile.                 


Longtime Spree contributor Catherine Berlin writes regularly on style trends.


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