Plenty of things have been discovered by accident. But fluorescent colours? Both Turner’s glowing yellow and today’s neon pink have unusual origins.
When Pantone released its 2022 Colour of the Year, there was an almost audible bemused rumble through the arts community. Pantone 17-3938, or ‘Very Peri’ (as it’s been cutely named), was launched by Pantone as “a vibrant periwinkle blue with violet red undertones.” Yet, beneath their Instagram post, launching the colour were thousands of purple hearts. Yes, people loved the new colour. But, no, they did not believe it to be blue.
Purple (or blue, with an undertone of red) might seem like a slightly unusual choice to represent and, to an extent, predict the mood of 2022. However, like its components, purple is a colour of contrasts. Historically, the pigment from which most purple dye was derived was incredibly expensive and made from the secretion of a gland of a predatory sea snail, a creature only found in the Mediterranean Sea. Which obviously makes you wonder how on earth such a thing was discovered, but, moreover, how it came to find itself on the backs of royalty? However, in the hundreds of years that have followed, purple has been co-opted by everything from iconic rock legends to milk chocolate. So, why is it considered to be so versatile? And why are Pantone and stock photography community EyeEm convinced that purple is the colour of 2022?
Spiritual, with a secret sensual spark
Why do religious leaders wear purple? It’s nothing more than association – in antiquity, leaders were deemed to have been bestowed their position as descendants of gods, and they were the only ones with enough wealth to afford to wear purple. Since then, the colour has been strongly linked with spirituality of all kinds. However, it’s also a colour associated with exotic flowers and symbolises the blending of the binary – pink and blue. In this respect, purple has come to be adopted by those who are open, free and dare to be.
Luxurious, but also a little bit trashy
When we think about deep purple, it’s often synonymous with wealth for all the reasons we’ve given above. However, the reality in advertising and branding is actually very different. With the notable exception of luxury jewellers, Asprey, purple is often used as a means to psychologically elevate a non-luxury product in the minds of the public. Think greetings cards, estate agents and candy. It is, perhaps, quite telling that even hundreds of years ago there was a rush to replace the expensive sea snail pigment with something more readily available – and cheaper.
A bold choice, but with understated values
Purple is very definitely a statement when it comes to clothes and décor. However, it really is all about the context. On the colour wheel, purple sits directly opposite yellow, orange and green as contrasting colours. Together, these colours look wild – bright, uncompromising and fun. However, it’s in the complementary colours that purple begins to assume a more neutral and, dare we say it, chic, demeanour. Black, brown, greys, pinks and blues can all be used in combination with purple to give a very subtle and elegant effect.
Artificial, while very natural
Because of its association with creativity and innovation, it comes as no surprise that purple is now frequently used to illustrate future technologies and the digital world. A quick dip into a stock photography website will return hundreds, if not thousands of abstract illustrations in shades of purple, depicting connectivity through lines and dots or internet and server speed, with swooshing purple lights taken at low shutter speed. However, thanks to anthocyanins (the pigment that makes flowers, plants and foods purple), it is also very much a force of nature.
It seems that, like 2022 itself, purple is the unpredictable outlier of colour. It’s versatile enough to be whatever is needed when it’s called upon. It can be cheering and sombre, traditional, yet modern, and speaks to both faith andhope. Whatever we choose to call it, there’s no doubt that we’ll be seeing purple filter into our lives and the images we make and take over the next year and beyond.
Discover more visual trends from EyeEm and learn more about Pantone’s Colour of the Year.