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Today, a quarter of the company’s revenue comes from the Pantone Textile Color Division, which Herbert launched in 1984 with the release of the Pantone Professional Color Guide that provided a palette of 1,001 colors used in home decorating and fashion applications. His sister Lisa leads the division, which since has expanded the palette to more than 1,900 colors and publishes eagerly anticipated color fashion reports featuring prominent designers such as Nicole Miller, Anna Sui, and Michael Kors commenting on the season’s hot hues.

As Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York, wrote in the fall 2005 report, which highlighted Rattan, Gloxinia, Moroccan Blue, and Atmosphere (a shade of gray), among others, for the season, “Today, the beleaguered consumer is overwhelmed by the millions of brands that scream ‘Buy me! Buy me!’ The use of strong, bold, gorgeous colors can help differentiate and navigate between the brands. This helps build loyalty. Tiffany=blue. Hermès=orange. Target=red.”

Pantone similarly developed a loyal following with its twice-a-year VIEW Colour Planner, a binder filled with palettes and packaged with fabric swatches selected by an international panel of consultants representing all of the company’s markets.

“Sometimes it’s a good thing to be different, but sometimes you can be criticized for being way off in left field, too,” says Anne Cashill, vice president of design and merchandizing at Liz Claiborne, which includes 22 brands and subscribes to the same color services — including the VIEW Colour Planner — as the Gap, Club Monaco, and Ralph Lauren.

Pantone chips
“Color is the first criterion in the selection process when a customer is making a choice to make a clothing purchase,” Cashill says. “It doesn’t matter if the workmanship or quality is exquisite if the color isn’t appealing.”

With consumer magazines such as Vogue, InStyle, and Harper’s Bazaar feeding off of and reinforcing trends forecast by Pantone and other color services, it’s no surprise that shoppers begin to see the same shade of Glazed Ginger on Capri pants, clothes dryers, and coffeemakers wherever they go.

While some dismiss reliance on color trends as “herd mentality” — a 2002 Wired magazine article stated that Pantone “is exploiting” the fashion industry’s “insecurity” — Herbert considers Pantone’s work to be “a stamp of legitimacy.”

“Color is very subjective,” he says. “People in the fashion and manufacturing industries feed off multiple resources and come to a consensus.”

Today, Pantone counts nearly 8,000 hues in its stable, coloring everything from broadloom carpets to cars, from printer inks to pajamas, and from sneakers to soda cans. Fifty percent of its business is conducted in the Western hemisphere — of which 90 percent is in the U.S. Another 30 percent is in Europe, and 20 percent is in Asia.

Though Herbert says wryly he’d rather leave the marketing to the marketers, he adds that his backgrounds in business and technology have served him well. “I have the capacity to challenge, say, my color scientists when they come up with a theory, and I have the knowledge to look at it from a business perspective,” he says. “My role is to identify new business opportunities and strategies that are realistically and uniquely achievable by us and set the company in that direction.”

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