The controversy over Marsala: Pantone's Color of the Year 2015

Joan Fieldstone

January 26, 2015

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: PaintingInterior Design

The great thing about the Internet and social media -- everyone's a critic. The bad thing about the Internet and social media -- not everyone who is, should be. You cannot believe everyone who posts online.

Take the controversy over Pantone's Color of the Year for 2015, Marsala. The day they announced it, interior designers began commenting about how much they hated it. At least I think they were interior designers. They acted like they had a right to pass judgment. They were also very strident in the way they denounced it.

It's one thing to say the color has been done over and over and isn't fresh. It's another to say it looks like "necrotic liver" or maybe it was kidneys. They alluded to bodily fluids, as well. They might not be interior designers, after all. Perhaps they are surgeons who are frustrated designers.

Okay, it's the Internet and, as I said, everyone apparently has a right to pass judgment. The problem is that the mob mentality has everyone else jumping on the bandwagon with the detractors as if they are afraid to disagree and look stupid. But when someone says this color is burgundy, red, or mauve and that it's so '70s, '80s, '90s - someone even said it was retro '60s - you know that they don't have an eye for the subtleties of color, and that's when you have to question their judgment as color critics.

How do you solve a problem like Marsala?

When I read the wildly varying descriptions of the color in each denunciation and looked at the swatch from Pantone on my computer monitor, I felt as if I was in the Tower of Babel. Were they even discussing the same color? One website had a list of the paint colors that came closest to Pantone's Marsala, and Benjamin Moore's Maple Leaf Red is allegedly the best match to Pantone's digital rendering. I went to the store to see it up close and personal.

Maple Leaf Red does not look like liver. When I took the chip home, however, and held it up to my dining room wall, it had more pink in it than my Spicy Cayenne from Behr paints -- probably last decade's version of this fundamental color. I had a sudden urge to repaint with it and update.

Marsala paint
My dining room

Perhaps this color keeps coming back decade after decade in a new incarnation because it is, as the Pantone website says, an "elegant, grounded statement color." Every decade needs its variation of an earthy red.

An Italian winemaker once told me, "Wine is life." I would love others to see Marsala the way Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of Pantone Color Institute, described it, "nurturing and fulfilling" like the Italian wine that inspired it. Of course, who am I to say? I'm not even a designer much less a color maven, but, hey, this is the Internet. I'm entitled to my opinion, too.

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