On Thursday, Pantone announced its 2023 color of the year: Viva Magenta. A hue with a lust for life. Not the aggressive synthetic of Barbie, not the intense luxury of Valentino’s couture, not the tired millennial salmon, but as New York Times critic at large Jason Farago put it, “a saturated shade honking at the threshold of fuchsia, definitely not organic but not quite electric.”
The shade was selected by human trend prognosticators who survey fashion and design, then interpreted by the AI tool Midjourney to create what Pantone described as an “endless new ecosystem to be explored, called ‘the Magentaverse.’” In a news release, the company called Viva Magenta, aka Pantone 18-1750, “an unconventional shade for an unconventional time.”
A few members of the Times Styles team ventured into the magentaverse to debate the color of the year.
Vanessa Friedman: The magentaverse! Let us pause for a moment to consider that word. I wonder what Mark Zuckerberg would say? I also wonder what you all would say. What does it mean that this is what could define 2023?
Callie Holtermann: The actual swatch of this color is so similar to TikTok’s “follow” and “upload” buttons. AI drives TikTok’s algorithm, AI helped express the color of the year. I guess the house always wins?
Jeremy Allen: I’ve grudgingly got to hand it to AI: Magenta might be the only color for 2023, a year that’s going to be all about divided government, divided everything. It’s neither here nor there (“pinkish-purplish-red” is one of Wikipedia’s definitions, and it’s exactly between red and blue on the color wheel), but it’s screamingly in-your-face.
VF: On the other hand, Jeremy, it’s also a compromise between red and blue. Which is maybe optimistic? At least politically. Though, according to color scientists, magenta does not technically exist, which is a less positive sign. There’s no wavelength of light that corresponds to magenta. It is simply that place where blue fades into red.
Stella Bugbee: The AI part of it feels like a gimmick gone wrong. Our ability to think about and differentiate between colors and apply meaning to them feels like a big part of what makes us human. Why outsource that?
CH: Like those Dall-E images created by AI, it’s got the gist, but something is off in a way that a robot might not (yet) notice, but a human would.
JA: As a designer of the print section on this desk, I have no doubt my job will be replaced by an algorithm in, what, five years? (It was wonderful working with you all!) But the lo-fi-ness of it all is one of the reasons I love magenta: It’s not so secretly one of the cornerstones of color printing — the M in CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). When something looks too red on a proof, we ask to reduce magenta, not, in fact, red. It’s a subtractive primary color, which means it never really gets its due. But what would we do without it?
SB: What do we make of the “Viva” of it all? Especially since Midjourney, its chosen interpreter, has a distinct lack of “viva”?
Louis Lucero II: Like the shade itself, it seems to insist that we be excited about it, but I’m coming up blank on a reason we should. It’s not a color that you want to live with in any meaningful way, is it?
Jessica Testa: The Jennifer-Coolidge-as-Tanya-in-“White Lotus” of colors. It’s standing at the breakfast bar of the five-star Italian resort asking for Oreo cookie cake.
JA: It almost feels like the millennial pink of yesteryear run through an algorithm to make it feel “post-pandemic” — that kind of Roaring Twenties redux.
JT: That’s the thing about these Pantone announcements; they explain their choices by making sweeping generalizations about the mood of the world. I remember in 2019, they chose “classic blue” as a response to everyone feeling “completely overloaded and perpetually stressed.” Pre-pandemic! If only they knew!
VF: So here’s another question: Would you wear it?
JT: Not for me. Though I will say the idea of wearing this shade of pink appeals more to me right now than wearing muted pink — say, millennial pink.
VF: Pantone identifies it as a “hybrid color,” or “a carmine red that does not boldly dominate but instead takes a ‘fist in a velvet glove’ approach.” They also say it “welcomes anyone and everyone.” But it’s interesting that most of us think of it as closer to pink than red.
LL: Pink is a fact of life, and it does feel that the brash maximalism of Ms. 18-1750 suits our current moment much better than a more restrained cotton candy or carnation shade.
CH: Somebody tell the AI that this color would wash me out!
SB: The AI doesn’t love us, Callie!
JA: The AI knows that this shade will make your avatar pop in the metaverse.
CH: Can you imagine the Zuckerberg avatar wearing this color? I’m going to be underdressed for the magentaverse.
VF: Actually, imagining the Zuckerberg avatar in the magentaverse fills me with cheer. It’s a step up from those gray T-shirts, anyway.
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