NEW YORK — The world doesn't need more gray, and the blues are covered, too. What consumer products need is a jolt, a shot of energy and boldness, all of which comes from Tangerine Tango, the reddish-orange hue that Pantone announced Wednesday as its top color for 2012.
"There's the element of encouragement with orange, it's building on the ideas of courage and action, that we want to move on to better things. I think it would be a disservice to go with a relaxed, soothing color now," said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, the research division of Pantone Inc., which creates color standards for the fashion, beauty and home industries.
The annual forecast for the next year's dominant color takes into consideration both what Pantone thinks shoppers want and need. Those are influenced by the designer runways, fabric shows, news events, pop culture and consumer habits. "Part of what we do is look at the zeitgeist," Eiseman explained. "We have to look at everything in the world around us. It's not an arbitrary choice."
Consumer spending is a big player in reviving the economy and it needs adrenaline, she said. Orange is a more urgent call to action than last year's hot-pink hue Honeysuckle, which was also supposed to channel cheerfulness coupled with nostalgia. Before that, there was the more serene turquoise and optimistic yellow.
"Color is really emotion," agreed Beth Eckerstrom, director of trend and product development at Crate and Barrel. "Everyone thinks it's a physical thing, but it's really emotion."
As she picks the palette for future products, Eckerstrom said she looks for shades that feel fresh but still are familiar, not foreign. "Over the past years, there's been a return to organic, natural product finishes and colors. They're complex neutrals, not beige and taupe, but people want to bring the outside in. This tangerine color is a fresh accent. ... It seems like such a bright, but it's really a gerbera daisy-flower shade, which makes it sort of neutral."
She does indeed like it partnered with green and distressed wood finishes. "This color is usable."
For his spring collection, Tommy Hilfiger used the tangerine color coupled with red, although it also complements navy and brown. He imagines men wearing the orange in a striped or paisley tie, or for women, as a color for a purse or even a trenchcoat. It's a color that will move seamlessly through the seasons.
Look for tangerine with red in the current resort collections for luxury accessory brand Judith Leiber, and it will continue as a top color for spring, used in a stripe pattern with cobalt blue, fuchsia, gold and white dubbed Palm Beach.
At the mall-level chain Charming Charlie, which organizes displays by color, tropical orange and hot pink will come together in February for the launch of a theme called Hotel Tropicana. Tangerine is the kind of color that can change your mood in a minute, said general merchandise manager Kasia Romo, and retailers like that.
"I'm not a big follower of feng shui, but feng shui would say it's a color that inspired play, happiness and good times ahead," Leiber creative director Jana Matheson said.
People also will find it surprisingly flattering, she added.
Orange will be a new addition to the closet, and newness is what drives purchases, Hilfiger said in a phone interview. "I feel very strongly about 2012: I think people over the last couple of years have been conservative with buying clothes. Eventually you have to refresh the wardrobe."
Since a little orange goes a long way, this will be an easy trend to tap into, predicted Brandi Shipp, vice president of marketing for the new lifestyle brand C. Wonder. It's also a shade that works in fashion and home items that are traditional silhouettes and shapes, so there doesn't have to be a full adjustment of the collective eye.
Consumers weren't always so keen to orange, however, said Eiseman, who wrote the new book "Pantone: The 20th Century in Color." It's been used a lot in high fashion — think Versace and Hermes — for years, but to the general public, especially in the United States, it was more closely associated with fast food or children's products, she explained. It all started to change as computers opened many doors in the 1990s.
"When use of the computer started taking off, you could see the awareness of colors used in other cultures. The orange began to come through. Italians got it, and certain Asian countries like India and Indonesia used orange, and then it started to make its way into the mainstream. And then in 1998 one of the iMac choices was orange," Eiseman said. "And at this point, we're ready to acknowledge orange as a 'happening' color."