Monday, October 10, 2011


My daughter has been editing the book she is holding in this picture for the past couple of years. On the basis of the sheer number of stories I have heard during that time about the design and production process, I can see why she is so proud of it. Everyone involved pushed for a level of integrity and refinement that have ended up making each double-page opening a surprise and a reward. The first copies only became available a few days ago (there are already eight foreign-language translations rushing simultaneously into print).

Pantone : the 20th century in color by Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker, published in San Francisco by Chronicle Books. Here is the official blurb, from the desk of the editor herself --

Pantone, the worldwide color authority, invites you on a rich visual tour of 100 transformative years. From the Pale Gold (15-0927 TPX) and Almost Mauve (12-2103 TPX) of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris to the Rust (18-1248 TPX) and Midnight Navy (19-4110 TPX) of the countdown to the Millennium, the 20th century brimmed with color. Longtime Pantone collaborators and color gurus Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker identify more than 200 touchstone works of art, products, d├ęcor, and fashion, and carefully match them with 80 different official PANTONE color palettes to reveal the trends, radical shifts, and resurgences of various hues. This vibrant volume takes the social temperature of our recent history with the panache that is uniquely Pantone.

Those of us not in the publishing business or the fashion business or the decorating business are probably clueless about the Pantone system, even though design pros regard it the same way fish regard water. So I like getting a sense of how this constantly expanding universe of coded colors actually gets used in creative industries. But what I like best about the book is the historical perspective.

This early Eighties spread, for example, demonstrates how the greens and browns and bronzes and pinks in a photo-journalistic shot of the newly married Prince and Princess of Wales corresponded to the color-choices in a contemporary magazine ad for a Ralph Lauren cologne, which also corresponded quite precisely to his then-current line of neckties. The Pantone palette running down the right-hand margin works side by side with the text to explain the characteristic look of each period. Personally, I have always heard about so-called "color moments" in visual culture, but I never really believed in their power and consistency until I could see it laid out for me here in dozens of witty examples from different decades.

Chronicle Books is also issuing a number of light-hearted tie-ins. My favorite of these is the postcard set (each of the 100 different cards is a genuine blow-up of a Pantone color-chip). Not only can they be written on and mailed ...

... but they can also be deployed around the house, to pin down the Pantone-value of anything and everything.