Why Grey and Yellow Will Take the Stage in 2021

February 4, 2021


POV: You’ve just dropped a banana peel on a concrete road, stared at it and decided that the colours would be the next hottest trend. 

That’s roughly what Pantone announced last December; a pale yellow named “Illuminating” and a light grey named “Ultimate Grey” are the two colours that represent 2021. 

Each year, one colour is announced by the world’s leading paint colour specialist based on carefully made predictions of trends. The company looks at current global events, cultures, social media and moods throughout the process. Once these shades become public, they transform the next year’s trends. The colours are adopted by several people in the fashion, design, and marketing industries. 

2020’s colour was a deep evening blue called “Classic Blue,” and it reflected the year ahead perfectly; its meaning was to “instill calm, confidence and connection (…) as we cross the threshold into a new era.” I mean, they were right about the new era. Once Covid-19 started to appear, things weren’t quite the same anymore. I wonder if they thought about what kind of social connections people would make in 2020, because the irony there is just incredible. Now, for the second time ever, Pantone has announced two such colours for this year.

The new colours are meant to represent positivity and enduring strength. At first glance, I didn’t see this meaning at all. And even at the second and third, I could just picture the banana laying on the road. Could they have chosen anything duller than grey and yellow? Why not pure white for hygiene, or light blue like a surgical face mask? As Michelle Ogundehin put it in her critique, “Grey alone would be too depressing for 2021’s colour of the year.” And frankly I agreed. Imagine seeing grey used everywhere in advertisements and shops- it would just drain the energy out of a city. The yellow just seemed like such a rushed last-minute decision made to bring some life to the concept.

But after reading Leatrice Eiseman’s quote, “The union of an enduring Ultimate Grey with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic; this is a colour combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit,” I guess I see where the idea comes from. It seems like quite a stretch, but these colours are open to interpretation under a positive light. 

Across the world, I’m sure millions- even billions of people were stuck inside the same four grey walls for weeks without hope. Illuminating is the perfect contrast to this: it is not what we already faced in the past, but what we want to see in the future. Keeping this in mind, I suspect Pantone’s colours aren’t just another yellow and grey, but Illuminating and Ultimate grey are colours that will leave stains on our world for years. 

Now, after really understanding what these colours mean for us, I know that even with a slight fever, humanity can use the banana to fuel its walk down the road of 2021.

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