In 2018, Pantone’s color of the year was Ultra Violet, a not so subtle nod to the late great Prince and also a less welcomed attempt at combining blue and red in a nod of bipartisanship. Given the continued escalation of gun violence, increased mental and physical examples of global warming devastation, and attacks on women’s reproductive rights, it was hard for many of us to conceive of a peaceful color choice for 2019.
But this year, the Pantone Color Institute decided to project the color of a world we wish we lived in versus the often bleak reality. On December 6th, the 2019 Pantone color of the year was announced as Living Coral, a pink-orange hue that directly reference the ocean’s rapidly dying coral reefs.
While a reference to our current climate change catastrophe doesn’t exactly evoke peace, Pantone describes the color choice as a chance to “provide comfort and buoyancy in our continually shifting environment.”
So, essentially, this color is meant more as a meditation on the warming beauties of nature, and the possibilities offline—versus a bittersweet mourning shade for the apocalypse.
While there are many ways to respond to this color choice along the binary of positive and negative, we are most fascinated with the origin of this shade. Where has the color coral been used throughout history—in art and culture, and what emotions has it represented?
Since this year’s chosen color Living Coral is a fairly pink shade of orange, it would be easy to get into semantics about which color associations truly apply to the shade. And that in itself makes it stand out as both adaptive and distinctive.
The color coral was fittingly named after the cnidarians found in the sea and, according to The Dictionary of Color, it first appeared as a color name (in English) in 1513. While coral as a widely regarded color name made its way into Western countries in the 1500s, a red shade of coral also historically represented the Muladhara Chakra in Hindu philosophy. According to yogic philosophy, the Muladhara Chakra is associated with roots and the Earth, and presents the spot where Kundalini energy sits (a primal energy sourced in the spine). The symbolism for the Muladhara includes four red coral leaves representing natural pleasure, great joy, the delight of controlling passion, and the blissfulness of concentration. It’s hard to miss the links between Living Coral’s bittersweet reflection on our (waning) natural resources, and the Muladhara’s emphasis on the earth, and grounding the spiritual root for your energy.
In order to get a current perspective from someone steeped in the world of color and all its cultural nuances, we spoke with the artist, professor, and author Steven Bleicher, who penned Contemporary Color: Theory and Use in 2004. Bleicher shared that coral is a unique choice because of its placement in the family of orange shades—a monochrome normally left out of high-end fashion trends.
While orange itself tends to be an everyman’s color, coral differs by presenting itself as a much more specific oceanic reference. Because of the ways topography influences fashion, Bleichner predicts whole landlocked portions of the country will forgo the 2019 color trend.
When asked his thoughts on the 2019 Pantone color of the year, Dougall Fraser, a psychic, cosmic coach, and author of Your Life in Color: Empowering Your Soul with the Energy of Color, told us coral is the color of emotional rejuvenation and expanding your thinking outside your limited perspective—basically, outside the self.
Obviously, the ways you connect to Living Coral are personal. Colors just act as mirrors for whatever we want to project onto them. And from a fashion and decorating standpoint, we all have shades we prefer and those that wash us out. Nonetheless, exploring a fuller cultural context for a color can open it up in new and fascinating ways.