At the Pantone Color Institute, the privilege doesn’t come cheap. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars for the company to come up with just the right one. So why would an actual person, rather than a business, even bother? Only two, at least in the Pantone client books, actually have.
Jay Z was the first, back in 2007. He introduced his “Jay Z” pearly blue — mixed with platinum dust — on a limited edition GM Yukon Denali later that year in Detroit. The head of a marketing firm he was working with brought along a piece of the hip hop mogul’s motorcycle as a guide when meeting with Pantone.
So what do they get besides a card and a code? They get formulas. How many and for what uses depends on what they want to do. Consistency over different fabrications, from paper stock for stationery to fabrics for fashion to paint to metal, is key.
“Both of them were very clear on what they wanted in their signature shades,” Pressman said. “When somebody comes with a very clear idea of what they’re looking for, that shade definitely has meaning for them.”
Pantone has a vast color wheel, but you can forget finding “Jay Z Blue” or SC2011 in any swatch or Pantone color guide available for public consumption.
“Some people are really strict about that to the point where we’re not even allowed to share that we work with them on the development of that color,” she said.
But Pressman has plenty of ways to describe Jay’s blue, a combination of sky and cobalt.
“I would describe that shade as a mesmerizing blue. There’s a pearlescent quality to that blue. There’s a magnetic quality to that blue. It’s a happy blue. It’s an optimistic blue,” she said. “It was pretty smooth sailing with Jay Z.”
Pantone has existed in its present form since 1963. Creating custom color has been a service since the beginning but sometimes the work is about helping a brand maintain color integrity.
Tiffany & Co., for instance, went to Pantone in 2001 for help with its trademark robin egg blue across media, materials and fabrications. It’s been the company’s signature since founder Charles Lewis Tiffany used it for the cover of its Blue Book, first published in 1845.
“They came to us because they were concerned that their color was veering a little bit further away from where they wanted it to go,” Pressman said.
Mixing custom color isn’t always easy. Depending on the intended material, a color may be difficult to achieve and stay true to the precise shade. And some dyestuff and pigments are no longer considered environmentally safe so can’t be used.
“We’re not allowed to use any ingredients that are toxic,” Pressman said. “There was a time when we really had to move away from the neons because they weren’t good for the environment.”
As for Chris, the real estate exec said she’s always been a hot pink person and that’s just what she got with SC2011, a vibrant hue with violet undertones.
It works, she said, “against my very pale Irish skin tone” and her platinum blonde pixie haircut. She’s even arranged for an office chair in her signature pink to have its own Foursquare check in from headquarters in Madison, New Jersey.
“I wear a pop of pink every day. At first I thought, ‘Well, do I really need this?’ Of course there are many things that you don’t need. It’s kind of a cool,” she said. “Just me and Jay Z.”
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