A leading graphic designer traces how certain shades have long served to distinguish. And seduce
Enzo Ferrari claimed that any child, when asked to draw a car, would always create a picture of a red one. Ferrari red has indeed become a mental model, a colour in and of itself. Almost a way of thinking of the colour red. Sure, there have been red Maserati, and red Alfa Romeo, but none of them obtained the same culturally symbolic status. What is it about a colour tone that imprints itself upon the collective imagination? Why does Ferrari red exist but not a Mercedes grey? In modern times colours provide differentiation: Coca-Cola is red, so Pepsi Cola is blue.
Colours identify themselves with whole systems of ideas and values. Some years ago American market researchers tested office employees, offering them two kinds of pencil, one coloured yellow, the other green. One week later the majority favoured the yellow pencil, complaining that the green pencils were difficult to sharpen and splintered too easily. In reality the two pencils were identical. The reality was that, for one hundred and fifty years the best-selling pencils had been yellow. So yellow had become the preferred model.
Colour, then, often constitutes an idea, an expectation. Certain colours become synonymous with the object that wears them, to the point that it’s difficult to imagine the objects in another hue. The yellow pencil is, in our minds, more of a pencil than any other, even to the point of convincing us that they sharpen better than a green pencil. Sometimes it simply depends upon which arrives first. In 1998 Apple's first iMac represented the design avantgarde, thus its translucent and bright colour tones were new too. The iMac was known for its unnatural, iridescent colour tones: hard stone, brilliant mandarin, enamalled green.
Plus a deep blue that Apple named ‘Bondi Blue’ after the sea at Sydney’s Bondi Beach. When everyone began to make coloured computers, Apple, in order again to stand out, focused instead on minimalism: all-white, black, silver. In a similar way, in 1845 Charles Lewis Tiffany, the famous New York jeweller, chose a shade of turquoise for his catalogue covers. From that moment it became distinctive for the brand.
Although it is the colour of the egg of the American Blackbird, the choice harked back to the habit common amongst Victorian brides to give their domestic staff a present of a brooch containing a turquoise stone. Something similar happened with automobiles. For almost a century the colour red has been synonymous with both speed and sporting pride.
In the 1920s ‘rosso corsa’ was dictated by the authorities to identify Italian cars in official competition. Sport demands easy recognition, so those early rules established that French teams raced in blue, German in white, British in green, with yellow reserved for Belgian teams. The colour red stands out more than any other, it makes room for itself, it’s visible from afar. Perhaps for this reason people tend to avoid the colour in everyday life - in urban settings few dress in red.
So, when asking ‘why does one colour work better than another?’, we have to turn the question on its head. Ferrari red has been successful not because a better shade was chosen than other racers, but, on the contrary, sporting success over many years has conferred that colour red a certain meaning, a series of values.
So it is with various successful brands. There are many blacks but only one is Chanel; there are various turquoise but only one is Tiffany. Clever marketing cannot simply choose the right colour. Instead it is continued success which confers its associated values upon that colour.
All precious stones images are supplied by Graff