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Shining a Light on Pantone’s 2021 Colors of the Year: Ultimate Gray + Illuminating 

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, the unofficial color authorities at Pantone have announced their Colors of the Year: soft, steady Ultimate Gray and cheerful, sunny Illuminating. In an effort to leave behind the 2020 blues, this color combination was selected to evoke a feeling of hope and inspire people to look ahead to brighter days. 

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, the unofficial color authorities at Pantone have announced their Colors of the Year: soft, steady Ultimate Gray and cheerful, sunny Illuminating.  

In an effort to leave behind the 2020 blues, this color combination was selected to evoke a feeling of hope and inspire people to look ahead to brighter days. 

Jamie Chang, destination wedding planner and owner of Mango Muse Events, elaborates: “After the horrible year that was 2020, I think there is a ray of hope that is building in people and engaged couples. People are looking for stability and joy and I do think the colors represent that nicely. Whether or not couples and clients adopt these colors will remain to be seen as it still has to fit with personal style, but I do think it’s a good representation of the feeling and mood and hope for 2021.” 

The decision to choose two colors this year, however, is contested by industry professionals. 2021 marks only the second time Pantone has introduced two colors in their annual announcement. Industry pros surely remember 2016’s Rose Quartz and Serenity causing a stir as Pantone’s first color combination of the year. 

For 2021, these shades were chosen to express the industry’s mood in the wake of the rollercoaster we all experienced in 2020. According to Pantone, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating were picked to express “a message of positivity supported by fortitude, […] a color combination that gives us resilience and hope.” 

It’s a powerful message as the events industry looks ahead to recovery and rebuilding, but the big question is: What do designers think about this combo? How will we see Ultimate Gray and Illuminating show up in events throughout 2021? 

Many see the juxtaposition between cheery yellow and dependable gray to be just what we need to inspire a brighter future. Nora Sheils, co-founder of Rock Paper Coin and founder of Bridal Bliss, thinks the pair of colors have come at the right time. “While Ultimate Grey has been coined as the 'stable foundation,' our hope is that Illuminating brings us all light after a long eventless season,” she says. “This duo is said to represent the 'light at the end of a tunnel' – and we are here for it, bring on 2021!” 

This sentiment is echoed by photographer and creative director of Manda Weaver Photography, Manda Weaver: “It seems like we’ve been waiting specifically for yellow to have her time in the sunshine for years now. Yes, it’s a bold choice, but it’s one that most people admire and enjoy. When you anchor yellow with gray, you get a palette that is both sophisticated and fun. Maybe our friends at Pantone knew that we would need this color choice for 2021.” 

In particular, these sunny hues will shine in the warmer months as we hopefully emerge from winter into a promising post-pandemic landscape. “Pantone’s 2021 Colors of the Year are fun, bright and whimsical,” explains Joan Wyndrum, co-founder of Blooms By The Box. “These shades bring life to the wedding industry and will be especially popular during the spring and early summer months. I think these colors will work beautifully for events and will bring 2021 some much needed joy and brightness.” 

Still, some feel disappointed by a color combination that was notably popular in the early ‘10s.  

“Anyone who has been in the wedding industry for ten years or more will remember these two colors peaked in popularity around 2012, when it was seen as a whimsical color palette, complete with chevron prints and pinwheels,” reminds Megan Acosta, owner and editor of Glamour & Grace. “I would challenge all those who would like to work with this color palette to truly think outside the box to make these specific hues come to life in a fresh and current way. I would love to see the pair used with a softer, romantic vibe so flashbacks to its quirky past are long forgotten.” 

Acosta isn’t the only one who feels this way, either. Owner and creative director for Rocket Science Events, Gretchen Culver, adds: “This specific color combo was very popular about eight to ten years ago for weddings and interior design, specifically baby nurseries. It seems too soon for it to make a comeback. To make this dated combination relevant and fresh, I think another color or two need to be introduced as accents.” 

Fortunately, this is a versatile color combination that can easily be played with to create unique and elaborate design schemes. Founder and creative director of A Good Day, Jordan Kentris, explains: “For our industry, it allows for more variety. The grey is a strong neutral (think concrete textures, grey velvet, and grey washed wood) and the yellow can act as a beautiful accent. Both of these colors can be incorporated into existing palettes—the grey is much easier to integrate, while the yellow can be brought in as a secondary or tertiary color.” 

However you feel about Ultimate Gray and Illuminating, it’s safe to say that it could trigger a shift towards more colorful and vibrant palettes across the board.  

“I hope that the colors picked will help bring wedding industry trends back to the colorful side of the spectrum, as we have been hanging out in blush and bashful spectrum for a long time,” asserts Janice Carnevale, owner of Bellwether Events. “At a minimum, there will be some editorial inspiration that comes from this that hopefully will inspire newly engaged couples. If a couple came to me and asked for these colors for the wedding, I'd be thrilled at the idea.” 

Leah Weinberg, owner and creative director of Color Pop Events, agrees, adding: “I think the stark difference in the two colors is going to work really well for events this year. Clients who aren’t that adventurous color-wise and want a more neutral palette for their event will be able to choose Ultimate Gray and still be on trend. Illuminating says to all of the color-loving clients that they should feel free to embrace that love of color and let it shine at their party.” 

Love them or hate them, there is a lot of meaning packed into Pantone’s decision when selecting Ultimate Gray and Illuminating for 2021’s Colors of the Year. Here’s to hoping the year ahead is filled with the stability and optimism these hues represent.  

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