Melissa Harris-Perry: Next year, we're thinking pink. Well, magenta.
The color forecasting company, Pantone, has revealed their color of 2023, and it is Viva Magenta, a mix of red so bright and a purple so bold that it looks pink. Now, according to Pantone, the shade is "an unusual color for an unusual time", and you may be thinking, who cares? I mean, not me, but colors tell stories and they have histories.
Take pink, it was the on-trend color of the 18th-century French Courts, and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower's White House was so bedazzled with pink, the 1950s suburban homeowners had to have it too. Find a vintage pink toweled bathroom, and you know exactly when that home was built. Mary Kay's pink Cadillac and Madonna's pink cone bra all are part of the history and story of the color.
Joining me today to discuss the interesting story and history of magenta is Dr. Regina Lee Blaszczyk, professor of business history at the University of Leeds and author of The Color Revolution. Welcome to The Takeaway.
Regina Lee Blaszczyk: Hello there.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. Before we begin, can you describe, maybe better than I did, what magenta looks like?
Regina Lee Blaszczyk: Well, magenta's kind of a combination of pink and purple. It's not really one of the pure colors, but it's a kind of a hybrid color that is suggestive of novelty and excitement, I think.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Novelty, excitement, I've read the words, unconventional, optimistic, even inclusive. What is it that would make magenta those things?
Regina Lee Blaszczyk: Well, magenta actually has a very long history, and it was one of the first colors that came out of the new synthetic dye revolution of the 1850s. Back in the time of the Louis XIV pink that you mentioned earlier, most dyes were synthesized from natural materials, and along about the 1850s, we had a revolution in chemistry that was very similar to the revolution in technology, which we are experiencing today. I think there's some parallels between the magentas that were introduced in the 1850s and the choice of magenta today as the 2023 color of the year.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I like this possibility that it is inclusive. Is the inclusivity emerging from this notion that it is colors that are mixed, or is there something else specific to magenta that makes it feel inclusive?
Regina Lee Blaszczyk: Well, I think it's a very warm color, and it's a color that was worn initially in the old days in the 19th century. It was a color that was somewhat rare, and the fact that it was democratized by the invention of these new synthetic dyes and colorants in the 1850s made it more inclusive, if that makes sense.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay. I like this idea of democratizing color. Now, is that because, as you point out, there's a prior to the revolution of how you could bring these dyes forward, that it was just too expensive for ordinary folks to wear particular colors?
Regina Lee Blaszczyk: Yes, it was very expensive for ordinary folks to even afford clothing before the mid-19th century. My great-great grandparents would've been peasant farmers laboring away in Poland somewhere, and they might have had one set of wool clothes that were some dark gray or brown color that they wore for years and years and years until they wore out and they got a new set. In the summer, they might have switched to some kind of lightweight linen clothing, but ordinary people, whether in Europe or Africa or North America, Asia didn't have a whole lot of clothes and they certainly didn't have a lot of colorful clothes.
Colorful clothes in the early modern period were really reserved for the elites. They were reserved for the princes and the princesses and the priests and the nobility because it was very difficult in the early modern period in the 17th, 18th centuries to get these bright colors. When you get the new second industrial revolution and the rise of the new chemical industry, you can make it possible for more people to have more colorful clothes and more clothes generally. Now, make no mistake, people in the 1850s didn't have closets full of clothing like we do today. Starting in the late 19th century, ready-to-wear took off, and with ready-to-wear, the textile industry, influenced by these new dyes, also took off. The parallels, the developments went hand in hand.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm thinking here, as you name-checked both Asia and Africa, those continents, I'm thinking also in this moment of the travels of the Silk Road. When you talk about colorful clothing, I mean, my first thought goes to West African Kente clothes and mud clothes, and the notion that there was this extraordinary color that also represented trade and globalization.
Regina Lee Blaszczyk: Yes. There were the silk colors. You could get really brilliant silk colors, but again, what ended up happening with those silks that came from Asia to Europe in the year 1500, they were really expensive, those silks were really expensive and they were luxurious, and the dyes that were in them were natural dyes. The clothes faded after a certain time. I would imagine the same thing was true with some of the natural dyes that were coming out of Africa in this time period as well.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I love the sort of moment where you say they didn't have closets full of clothing the way we do now. Actually, there's been, and we've talked about it even here on the show, a little bit of critique of that fast fashion where we dispose of so much. When we hear from Pantone magenta is going to be the color of the year, is that moving us towards even more disposability, or is it moving us towards more acknowledgment of the meaning that our clothes have?
Regina Lee Blaszczyk: Well, I think the whole concept of the color of the year is a very interesting one. Pantone didn't invent the process of color forecasting. Color forecasting has been around since the 19th century, and I talk about this in my book, The Color Revolution. It was invented by the French, and it was actually perfected by the Americans in New York City in the 1920s through the 1950s. Pantone comes on board a little later, and it is really product of our computer age. What Pantone did when it introduced the concept of the color of the year in time for Y2K, in time for the new millennium is it capitalized on this idea of celebrity and made color into a celebrity.
Now, it doesn't mean that because we have Viva Magenta as the color of the year doesn't mean everything is going to be a magenta next year in the stores, and that we all have to run out and buy magenta clothes and then throw them away the next year. What I think it's suggesting simply is that here's a color that captures the zeitgeist. We, as Pantone, are a brand and we provide color services. Really, this whole idea of the color of the year is something that is used to build up the brand of Pantone as a company that sells color services, not necessarily as a concept to induce us to buy more throwaway fashion.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Regina Lee Blaszczyk is a Professor of business history at the University of Leeds and author of The Color Revolution. Thanks for talking with us.
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