The Business Of Color: Pantone Sets Fashion Trends A secret group of 10 people meet twice a year at the invitation of Pantone, a company based in New Jersey, to decide on the hottest fashion colors for the season. The company has a hand in choosing the color of about half of all garments sold in the U.S.
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The Business Of Color: Company Sets Fashion Trends

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The Business Of Color: Company Sets Fashion Trends

The Business Of Color: Company Sets Fashion Trends

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It doesn't look like you'll be wearing salad green soon, but you may have a choice of salmon, or a blue grey called Orchid Hush. Ilya Marritz reports on New York fashion week.

ILYA MARRITZ: If you've seen the 1957 musical "Funny Face," you may think trends happen - like this.

(Soundbite of movie, "Funny Face")

Ms. KAY THOMPSON (Actor): (as Maggie Prescott) (Singing) Think pink. Think pink, when you shop for summer clothes

MARRITZ: Kay Thompson as an imperious women's magazine editor. What she says goes.

Ms. THOMPSON: (Singing) But tell her if she's got to think: Think pink

MARRITZ: Fashion trends may once have been made by a single individual, but if you talk to people in the business today they will tell you a lot of the decisions are now made by committee.

Professor DAVID SHAH (Founder, "Textile View" Magazine): We work with 10 people. They're all extremely qualified.

MARRITZ: Twice a year, every May and November, David Shah convenes a meeting of creative directors from around the world, just to talk about color.

Prof. SHAH: So I have people who work in the car business, who work with big store groups - I can't tell you the names. They're involved with everything from furniture through to clothing and knitwear.

MARRITZ: This anonymous group of design dignitaries comes together at the invitation of Pantone, a company based in New Jersey whose business is describing, selling and making color.

The color-forecasting committee always meets in Europe. The city changes each time. Shah says the walls in the room are white walls so everyone can clearly see the objects their colleagues have brought in as inspiration.

Prof. SHAH: We had one of our committee came last winter, they came with a basket full of onions and chopped up all the onions to show how the beauty of the color of an onion is.

MARRITZ: Now, Pantone has plenty of competitors in the color-forecasting field. But in its core business - color standards - the company has no rivals. At Pantone headquarters in an industrial building in a marsh outside Manhattan, the company keeps a sort of Periodic Table of color, 1,925 color shades in all, each with a unique identifying number.

(Soundbite of machinery)

MARRITZ: In the dyeing room, 12 stainless steel machines hum and belch steam. One of them is rinsing a canary-yellow piece of cloth. In the next few hours, it will be dried, cut and sent to clients around the world.

Laurie Pressman is vice president for Fashion, Home and Interiors. She says the goal is to provide a vocabulary - through swatches, and color books and computer files - to enable developed-world companies to talk to their overseas suppliers.

Ms. LAURIE PRESSMAN (Vice President, Fashion, Home and Interiors, Pantone): What you have now is so much production shifted to Asia -whether it's China, whether it's Indonesia, whether it's in Vietnam -it's very key to have a standard way to communicate from the design side, all the way down through the supply chain.

MARRITZ: Nacha Rejas says it works. She's CEO of ASA, a Lima-based company that works with more than a dozen Peruvian factories, making clothes for Americans.

Ms. NACHA REJAS (CEO, ASA Textile Sourcing): When a customer phoned us up and tells us: These are the colors that we are going to use for this specific style, and the codes of the Pantone are blah, blah, blah, I can work very quick and save a lot of time.

MARRITZ: And get the colors exactly right. Rejas says in the old days, fabric samples were sent in the mail. There was no agreed-upon standard. Today, everyone is working with the same Pantone book and clients can respond to trends fast.

But here's a question that cuts to the heart of what fashion is: Why would any designer want to run with the pack?

John Crocco is the creative director for Perry Ellis. He calls color forecasts a self-fulfilling prophecy. And he says if you choose to follow them...

Mr. JOHN CROCCO (Creative Director, Perry Ellis International): Then you're going to be part of what ultimately becomes the trend. If you don't, then you're going to be outside of it.

MARRITZ: And risk irrelevance, which just about the worst thing imaginable for any label.

For NPR News, I'm Ilya Marritz.


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