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Imagining the New Year in Color

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By Claire Walla

Tangerine Tango. It’s bold, it’s exciting; it’s probably one of those colors you either love or you hate. But whether you like it or not, Pantone has named this vibrant shade its official color of the year, which — considering the influence of Pantone, a widely regarded authority on color — means you’ll probably soon be seeing it in retail venues and storefronts across the nation.

When I told Pantone color forecaster Keith Recker I thought the color was fine, but, unfortunately, it was probably the least flattering color combined with my rather bland complexion, he seemed to understand.

“I know,” laughed Recker, whose skin has a similar pigmentation. “Who looks good in tangerine?”

We agreed that Tangerine Tango is a color you either have to have really dark features for or be super-pale to pull off.

“But that’s part of the message,” he continued. “We are operating on two extremes these days. It’s either super expensive, or it’s a bargain. You’re either on the left, or you’re on the right.”

For Recker, as well as the color professionals at Pantone who boldly predicted 2012 as the year of vibrant orange, selecting colors to characterize the entire year takes more than a hunch and intuition.

When selecting colors to represent a given year, Recker, who works from an office in the Loeffler building on Bay Street in Sag Harbor, begins far away from the color wheel. Instead, he gathers information from such sources as current events, hot topics, fashion trends and pop culture. In essence, he tries to take the pulse of the nation far in advance to get a good grasp of what the most prominent issues will be during the course of the year. To these trends and events he assigns emotion, and to these emotions he then attaches color.

For instance, Recker said this year will largely be defined by the 2012 election.

“This color talks to the heated debate we’ll be seeing in 2012,” he explained. “Tangerine Tango is definitely a warning, super-bright, keep-you-on-your-toes color.”

The bold, radical hue, Recker said, could “propel you into achieving more and being more inventive.”

(Just to clarify: Recker was not directly involved with selecting Tangerine Tango as the color of the year, but he stands by Pantone’s decision to single it out. As a color forecaster who works for companies, including Pantone, Recker himself puts together a more wide-ranging handful of color palettes for the year. But, tangerine just so happens to fit in with the gist of his own forecast.)

But if orange is not your thing, have no fear: 2012 is about duality. To better characterize this idea, Recker hand selected two unique color palettes for The Sag Harbor Express, each made up of color swatches culled from the comprehensive color forecast he submitted to Pantone for 2012.

The first palette — containing Tangerine Tango — is a collection of bright, bold, almost candy-coated colors representing the energetic, ambitious side of the year.

“It’s this idea of technology, innovation and moving forward,” Recker explained.

The colors themselves stem from what Recker referred to as “the primacy of technology” in our everyday lives.

“I’m much more conscious of the control technology has over me these days,” he said. “We’ve got all these things that are constantly offering news and stimulation, demanding response and attention, and the response loop is quite small; people want to hear back from you super quick. So, we are faced with on-screen colors most of the day.”

He noted that the fashion world is already broadcasting this message. From Christopher Bailey at Burberry and designer Paul Smith to Ralph Lauren, Recker said spring and summer collections are already featuring bold, brilliant colors.

To complement this message, however, Recker also put together a line of more muted tones: a rich red wine color (which Pantone calls Red Plum), a mustard hue (which Pantone calls Arrowwood) and series of greys. These colors, he said, are about “staying calm, rooted, sensible and grounded.”

These shades have the characteristics of a color palette Recker initially modeled after the vibe of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“It’s more of an intellectual take, all the warm colors of leather book bindings — that’s where the Arrowwood comes from,” he explained. “It’s the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and really enjoying that.”

The idea behind this pair of palettes ultimately urges you to tow the line between being bold and creative, and calm and sensible. And according to Recker, we need both to move forward.

“Unless we make some bold, brilliant changes, what are we going to do?” he asks. “And if we don’t keep our feet on the ground and address some of the fundamentals we’ve really neglected we’re not going anywhere, either. We really need to be strong in both ways, and we need to move back and forth across the divide.”

Which brings us back to the color of the year. Still wondering how to incorporate Tangerine Tango into your life? Take a tip from Recker: he said he actually stepped out of his comfort zone and bought a jacket that definitely sits in the same vein as this vibrant orange hue. What’s more, he said he’s already worn it in public. Twice.

“I feel like a lollipop when I wear it,” he admitted. “But, you know what? I feel great. I have felt so vibrant and so on. Normally, I’d never… But, honestly, it’s felt really good to do something so out of my comfort zone.”

He continued, “For me, if you have to plan how to engage with these colors, just pick one and see how it goes. Get yourself a Tangerine Tango coffee mug and see if you don’t notice a difference. All it takes is one little thing. See what happens… you might like it.”