Green light flashing for colors with comfort

Among its new hues, Fiestaware hopes shamrock line is lucky

February 23, 2003|By Melissa Allison | By Melissa Allison,Special to the Sun

Shamrock is the color for 2003. It's the new yellow, which was retired in favor of a vivid yet vintage green that harks back to a gentler time, when jobs were plentiful and there were no code-orange alerts for homeland security.

We're not talking about the latest trends on the catwalk.

These are housewares colors, which have taken on increasing importance as consumers spend more time and money on their homes.

People want their homes to reflect their personalities, and that means they want color choices beyond white, beige and almond.

Fiesta, which began making colorful dishes in 1936, has its finger on the pulse on which hues are in and which are out. Each year the brand retires a color and introduces a new one.

The winning color for 2003 was shamrock, and the company discontinued yellow, a color that has not sold as well as the more brilliantly colored sunflower. Shamrock Fiestaware was on display at the annual International Housewares Show in Chicago earlier this year. The show also showcased colorful housewares from a variety of companies eager to appeal to consumers who look for hues that make them feel comfortable and secure.

Shamrock "is very safe because it reminds you of nature and of things that will always be here. Our currency is green," said Judi Noble, art director for Homer Laughlin China Co. in Newell, W.Va., which owns the brand.

Green is so popular that the Pantone Color Institute, an international arbiter of which colors will be popular in any given year, devoted an entire home furnishings palette for 2003 to the color.

Called "Renewal," the green palette includes 10 variations of the color, ranging from sunny lime to chicory to herbal green.

But that doesn't mean greens are the only choice, or even the hottest choice, for housewares in 2003.

"The mid-1980s was the last time we saw a wholesale sweep of colors," said Leatrice Eiseman, director of the Pantone Color Institute. That was when mauve swept the nation.

Since then women, the primary household shoppers, have gone for a wider range of colors. Pantone has eight home furnishings palettes for 2003, only one of which is devoted to a single color category.

One housewares palette is devoted to colors that remind people of their U.S. heritage--garnet, blue ribbon and winter white, of course, but also military olive, faded denim and hunter green.

Another is reminiscent of the more recent past, with vintage colors that might appeal to Fiestaware collectors. That retro palette includes muted greens, pearl blues and rosy taupes.

How does the Color Institute determine what colors will be most marketable in the future?

"It isn't just a revelation that falls out of the sky for those of us entrusted with this kind of work. We do a lot of homework," said Eiseman, who works on future palettes as many as two years in advance.

She combs the world, looking at hues and talking to other color experts about the direction color is headed. Sometimes a popular traveling art exhibit will have an impact on people's preferences. Other times, as with Sept. 11, 2001, a major event will shift the dynamic dramatically.

The patriotic and heritage-associated colors favored were never out of style, Eiseman stresses.

"It's not that people haven't used them for years, but it brings them to the forefront," she said.

Adrienne Weiss, chief executive of a Chicago-based branding think tank of the same name, said the move toward safe colors and styles is not just a function of the new fear instilled in U.S. citizens by Sept. 11.

"Historically, there's been a lot of fear at the turn of a century -- fear of the future, fear of change," Weiss said.

Instead of moving toward futuristic, slick tones and forms as when 2000 was upon us, we moved toward retro looks for comfort, she said.

Weiss says she personally would have preferred the "slickest, longest, most aerodynamic energy" in emerging colors and shapes. But she recognizes that the rest of the country wanted to take a step back.

Even the latest colors from KitchenAid, which already offers a stunning array of colorful home appliances -- including pink standing mixers, whose sales help benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and cobalt blue refrigerators, as well as empire red dishwashers--are not as "out there" in 2003 as KitchenAid colors sometimes are.

KitchenAid introduced the first nonwhite standing mixers in 1954. In 1997, it brought chrome and copper "concept colors" -- meaning they were just thoughts and not available for order -- to the Chicago housewares show.

"We didn't even know if we could take them to mass production," said head of marketing Brian Maynard. Those finishes on standing mixers came to market within two years of the show.

This year, KitchenAid has no concept colors in its housewares display. But it does have two new hues for order. One is called "ice," a very light blue.

The second color might not be familiar to some: wasabi. It's named after a paste people eat with sushi.

It's green.

Melissa Allison is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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