Every year, creatives from every corner of the design world look to the Pantone Color Institute for guidance in what hue will reign for the next 365 days. Last year’s color, Radiant Orchid, a chirpy shade of lilac, was widely heralded as one that symbolized the economic recovery, optimism for humanity, and a sense of sophisticated purpose.
This year’s color, a muted shade of scarlet branded "Marsala," has received a decidedly sour response: Social media has questioned what Pantone calls “a naturally robust and earthy wine red color” as “a color that makes you want to go to Olive Garden or order Tampax in bulk.”
“Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal, while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness," Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said in the company press release. "This hearty, yet stylish tone is universally appealing and translates easily to fashion, beauty, industrial design, home furnishings and interiors.”
With a name like Marsala, food has been a dominant topic of discussion—not helped by the imagery accompanying the release. Design firm Sub Rosa created the visuals, portraying a casual dinner party that’s at once carefree yet collected, with women in cowboy boots smilingly surveying a tray of pomegranate seeds, hunk of meat, and fruit, all surrounded by what can only be assumed to be Marsala wine. The goal reportedly was to create “a series of images that were as bold and exciting as the color of the year itself.”
But bold and exciting seem controversial. While some found the color's rich burgundy tones royal and sophisticated, many pointed instead to the color’s evocation of various reddish brown processes. Think rust, the grimy, gag-inducing type that lines corners or frat boy dormitory-style bathrooms. Or blood, the freaky dried kind whose iron content has been exposed to the air long enough to evoke a dull brick.