Mauve moves off stage teal waits in wings

November 20, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

There is no bad color.

Gray is the neutral of the decade.

The mauving of America is coming to an end.

These are just some of the opinions expressed by Ken Charbonneau, color expert for Benjamin Moore & Co., and a member of the Color Association of America.

The most important point-of-purchase factor in consumer decisions is color, Mr. Charbonneau said, and it's even more important than price. Mr. Charbonneau, who lives and works in New York City, visited Kansas recently to present workshops for design students at Kansas State University and for designers, architects and other artisans.

The association puts together color forecast charts that are used by every industry, from appliance manufacturers to apparel designers, and for everything from the color of a commercial building exterior to the smallest accessory, he said.

"We look for new directions that will help, not confuse, the consumer." Every industry, he suggested, is making an effort to coordinate color availability, calling it "concept selling."

"We have been accused of forcing colors on the public. What we really do is exchange information so colors make more sense and correlate a lot easier," said Mr. Charbonneau, who has been tracking color trends for nearly 20 years.

"Right now the design level in this country is higher than it's ever been," he said.

For the Wichita session he set up 14 color boards in the front of the room, using chairs as makeshift easels. He concealed the furniture with hundreds of fabric swatches, all currently available materials.

Almost rebutting his own "no bad color" statement, he flourished a yellow-green tapestry swatch: "This is new, but would you buy it?" The consumer makes the final decision, he pointed out. The color won't be around long if no one buys it. Fashion color is what people are willing to accept.

That doesn't mean all greens are out, Mr. Charbonneau said, pointing to two green color boards on display. One he called Ralph Lauren's Desert Storm greens or the L. L. Bean greens -- most in the khaki-green family, "green-cast neutrals."

"These greens can be very sophisticated and elegant. Consider the combination of khaki and hot pink," he suggested.

The other green color board he called classic greens, to go with the forest greens of hunting prints, paler shades seen in English chintz and even a cotton fabric with a malachite (green gemstone) pattern.

Part of the reason consumers sometimes avoid a color family is that "they remember the last time that color was popular," Mr. Charbonneau said. "Say green and people think of avocado green; say gold and people think of harvest gold."

Those colors were overdone in their time, he believes, just as mauve has been overused in recent years.

"You can always count on the classic colors," he said -- royal and indigo blue, wine and garnet reds.

"Neutral does not mean boring beige; neutral means a non-interfering color that is just in the background."

Besides gray, the new neutrals are peach and rose, he said. "The new neutrals are subtle whispers of color, so subtle that sometimes you almost don't get it."

Whites are being tinted to off-whites with many different colors, he said, calling them "fresco pales, not pastels."

The popularity of gray as a neutral necessitated a new look at whites, he said. "Linen white and the other off-whites just weren't clean enough for gray. We were astonished; we had to bring back white-white."

Throughout his presentation Mr. Charbonneau repeatedly urged people to look for:

* Sheen levels of paints to increase. They will mimic laminated surfaces, look like seamless vinyls and be as durable as vinyl.

* Tasteful glitz. Metallics, burnished metals and, at the high-price end, real gold will be used.

* Periwinkle or cornflower blue as a popular trim or accent color. Use it in small doses.

* The return of purples and violets. They are rich, royal and regal. They always have been used in Europe. Americans are just too conservative, afraid of color.

* The grayness of mauve to go out. In that color family you will be seeing real pink and magenta.

* Earth tones to get a new name and new look. They now will be called earth-related colors -- including terra-cotta, brick-red cinnabar red, amber -- and will have a spicy look.

* Definite colors to be available, such as marigold yellow.

* Teal colors to come on strong. Teal blues like Indian and Persian turquoise may be the next "mauving of America." Remember there is a "touch of teal" in that basic gray and mauve color scheme that we see everywhere.

* Nothing new in color. Remember: We are just seeing it again.

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