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A Dance with Colors: From Millennial Pink to Gen Z Yellow


Analyzing the cultural meaning of color trends allows designers to transform their innate intuition into an educated style forecast

Color trends, as the term suggests, are coming in and out of fashion all the time. But every now and then there’s a color that washes the planet so much that even tastemakers, in the shape of color committees, are caught by surprise. Such was the case of Millennial Pink, a color that was embraced by consumers so much that it was named after the generation that brought it to fame.

In its previous run in the 2000’s, pink showed up in its Barbie-meets-Juicy-Couture glory, with a clear attachment to everything girly. That’s also the reason this particular shade wasn’t the one making a comeback around 2014. Instead, the color pink came back in its more natural and neutral tones, a range of blue-less shades that went from blushy beige to peachy salmon. Throughout the reign of pink in recent years, there were efforts to crown 2017’s Greenery or 2018’s Ultra Violet as supreme, but in an Instagram age of color and trend democracy, our feeds refused to mirror anything other than pink, and there’s probably more than just persistence to it.

Why do we love Millennial Pink?

Millennial Pink, beyond being just a color, managed to become a symbol of gender neutrality, where women could embrace femininity in a non-girlish way and men could refuse to label themselves at all. Moreover, as designer Raya Cohen from the Wix Design Team explains, “the specific shade of pink along with the recent wave of feminism, allowed girls like myself, who always rooted for black over pink, to embrace our femininity again.” In an article from March 2017, The Cut’s Lauren Schwartzberg took this theory one step further. “It’s been reported that at least 50 percent of millennials believe that gender runs on a spectrum — this pink is their genderless mascot,” she wrote. A kind of color that allows men and women to reject gender labels.

Janelle Monáe – PYNK

The art of making meaning

Also named Ironic Pink in the same article from The Cut, it’s indeed ironic that the label-rejecter color is being forced on a label of its own. But while definition seeking might seem like a self-indulging industry habit, keeping up with color trends and understanding their cultural context is key with delivering that innate designer intuition as an educated explanation to a client or other professional interfaces.

“Any company that seeks to provide users with forward-thinking design solutions has to focus efforts on trend forecasting and analysis,” says Noa Spiegelman, a Content Visual Expert at Wix. “But it’s important to understand that the value is not just with the user who enjoys an on-trend variety, but with the knowledge a designer holds. Creating with context and intent is always better than operating in a void.”

Noa and her team are in charge of the Wix Template Page and are continuously studying the market and analyzing user behavior to stay ahead of the curve. That research allows them to decide on the type of templates to create, and trend forecasting is important for determining how the templates will look. “It’s also interesting to see what catches on and what becomes a fad,” Noa emphasized. “It’s such a huge area of research without a controlled environment, so at times it would seem random, but keeping your eyes open and diving into the meaning of a trend is part of our professional responsibility.”

“I think for a designer who lives and breathes design, the act of trend forecasting is something more intuitive,” adds Raya. “It usually starts with a vision you have, then you notice other people had something similar in mind. When you start connecting the dots, you see that this thing you imagined is not just in your head anymore. That’s when I start to study it and try to understand where it’s coming from, so I can push my designs even further.”

Along came Gen Z Yellow

Understanding the appeal of Millennial Pink and its cultural meaning allows us to better understand this new generation-attached color: Gen Z Yellow. Unlike its millennial sibling, this yellow was named almost right when it started to pop on Instagram. The first to coin the term was Haley Nahman on Man Repeller: “If I squint and scroll through my feeds, it’s still a rose-colored blur,” she wrote in August of 2017. “But when I slow down and take a closer look, flashes of something else, something sunnier, betray a changing of the generational tides. I call it Gen-Z Yellow.”

First pops of yellow on Beyonce’s ‘Hold Up’

Since it doesn’t have a defined tone palette, the Gen Z Yellow color range is wide for the time being. Elle Australia is calling it “the buttery, carnation-, buttercup-, banana-, sunshine-yellow”; over at The Dieline it ranges from “fluorescent to canary”; last March, Vogue placed it “somewhere between a marigold and the shade of French’s mustard”; and recently, the famously Millennial Pink flag bearer, Acne Studio, “opened ‘pale acid yellow’ store in West Hollywood” as reported in Dezeen. From fashion to interior design to packaging to branding, it seems like yellow has caught on throughout all fields of design.

Selena Gomez demonstrating yellow on ‘Fetish’

Avigail Tehori, Team Lead for the Content Media Team at Wix, has been following the evolution of the color for a while. “We started seeing pops of yellow one or two years ago, as part of what we call a ‘hyper fun’ color trend,” says Avigail. “It was almost an overuse of colors to deliver the feeling of extreme fun with millennial pink as the basic tone, and soft colors like yellow and pastels to complement. A perfect example of that are sites like, for example, where you immediately get the sense of fun in the sun. Another trend that yellow played a part in is the use of primary colors and the references to Mondrian’s famous Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow. But here also, yellow was never the main color.”

A use of yellow in a website designed by Jase Coop for Last Japan

A use of yellow on Last Japan designed by Jase Coop for Last Japan

Recently, Avigail started noticing yellow as the star of sites online. “I follow Brutalist Websites and for the past weeks, I noticed more and more sites that use yellow as the main color of the site’s palette. We are still talking about edgier, more underground designs, but for me this is exactly when I see that the next step would be the mainstream demand, and I have to make sure we implement it on our templates.”

Aminé – Yellow

A generation of color

It seems almost hesitant, at times, to declare that yellow is a voice of a generation. But a dig deeper into the subject suggests a contextual explanation that might shed light on how yellow became a trend. A 2015 Dazed piece inquiring about an art movement on the rise is a place to start from. “‘Art Ho’ is a huge new art movement – one specifically (though not exclusively) made for POC artists, by POC artists,” wrote Dominique Sisley. “Accompanying the ubiquitous arthoe or artho labels,” she continues, “are swathes upon swathes of scribbled-on selfies and eye-popping imagery.”

While exploring the color trend, Apartment Therapy’s Nancy Mitchell traced the Art Ho’ movement to its co-founders, Mars and Jam, two young artists and people of color that started the movement “as a way of redefining blackness and challenging stereotypes about people of color through art. Many of the works,” Mitchell explains, “are portraits of the artists superimposed against famous pieces of art, often wearing rich, mustardy shades that reflect the colors in the original art.”

An Art Ho’ aesthetics tutorial

Indeed a browse through the hashtags above reveals an aesthetic of primary colors with a strong lean towards the yellows, whether it’s a strong presence of yellow Kanken bags, or the frequent appearance of yellow flowers in particular. Looking at this clear, bright aesthetic, it wasn’t a surprise when design houses like Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3, Kenzo and Maison Margiela took the color and turned it into a runway trend for fall 2018, making sure to maintain its original concept of diversity, by working with POC models.

All that might explain how yellow spawned as a trend, but the question as to why this color was crowned as a color of a generation remains. WWD’s Lily Templeton went on to try and explain just that after the Y-3 show. “The Art Hoe collective… is credited with the emergence of this hue as a successor to Millennial Pink as the color du jour,” wrote Templeton. “Associated with optimism, vitality and ambition, the historically rare color could be read as a metaphor for a generation eager to surpass the troubles of the epoch.”

According to the U.S Census Bureau, 50% of kids under 15, an age group that is considered to be Generation Z, are a part of a minority race or ethnic group. This might lead to the theory that if the Millennial Pink served as a “genderless mascot” of a generation, Gen Z Yellow is this generation’s uncompromising demand for inclusiveness – and bright, positive, attention-demanding-yellow is their brand.



May 15, 2024

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