A Search for Colour

By John Haslam and Phil Alexander

G . F Smith is the world’s most respected and remarkable fine paper company, obsessed with the simple beauty and limitless possibilities of paper.

Colour has been inextricably woven into the history of the company since 1936, when the first shade of its now-iconic Colorplan range was born. In the 83 years since, that game-changing paper range has emerged to include 50 colours and become the benchmark collection for the creative industries of Britain and beyond. Looking back over the archives, many of the colours selected for inclusion seem to hold up a mirror to the times, capturing the spirit of the age.

The range evolved from the ‘Smoke’, ‘China White’ and ‘Bagdad Brown’ of the interwar years to the bold and bright pops of ‘Vermilion’ and ‘Mandarin’ as TV sets across Britain exploded into colour in the 1960s, followed by the muted tones of ‘Mist’ and ‘Stone’ as the 1970s backlash against ’60s psychedelia placed more emphasis on the natural environment.

But what colour are we now?
Is there a shade that reflects the globalised world of the twenty-first century?

It is clear that colour has always had an intrinsic relationship with our culture and is woven into our consciousness. The story of colour maps a particular history through our cultural development — telling a much larger story about the way we perceive, value and cherish colour.

So as part of a recent colour review of Colorplan, we asked ourselves if there is a colour that best reflects our own time. Drawn to the idea of favourite colours, we wanted to see if it is really related to personal choice and style. No longer constrained to local or national polls like previous historic studies, we decided to use our global paper partners and the power of digital to open out the question across the world: what is your favourite colour? It’s a question we are often asked as children, but do we still know the answer?

With submissions from over 100 countries, our ambitious online project quickly became the world’s largest ever colour study attracting responses from Azerbaijan to Australia. The insights that the study yielded, underlined that colour is as much about substance as it is about beauty. The fascinating results and their relevance are shared in this report — inspiring the world to think differently about the role and value of colour in our lives.

To read the full report contact G . F Smith to order a physical copy.