"Aqua blue, acid lime and grape purple. Electric orange interspersed with neon pink. Gray suede and cheetah print mixed with white and gold. These are not descriptions of a minimalist’s worst nightmare, but rather new color combinations from Adidas, Reebok and New Balance. And they are jarring by design.
In the age of the infinite scroll and the era of sneaker culture, where the competition to make the hottest, rarest, most wanted kick is more intense than ever, the shoe that clashes shades with the most force stops traffic — at least of the online kind. As a result, athletic shoe companies are increasingly becoming fluent aficionados of that old art: color theory.
The links between color and emotion have been studied for centuries, from Carl Jung’s color coding of personality traits to focus groups evaluating the ways in which candy colors can affect perceptions of flavor. Drug companies color their pills “cool” or “hot” according to desired effect (hypnotics are often blue or green, antidepressants yellow), and we use SAD lamps in winter to replicate the energizing qualities of a sunny day.
Sometimes the triggers are obvious: The use of Varsity Red, for example, summons up Ferris Bueller collegiate nostalgia; gold and purple call to mind a Lakers game; and white is associated with racket sports. But in fashion, color is also your brand. Fendi is yellow, Hermès is orange and Tiffany is blue. Thus sneaker brands toggle between their core colors and wild experimentation.
New Balance, for example, is rooted in gray, omnipresent every season, suggestive of the urban running shoe, riffing on concrete. “Doing gray right is something we take a lot of pride in,” Ms. Ross said. “Every gray on our color ring has a character and personality: Castle Rock is warm; Steel is a blue tone. With legacy models, we make sure our tanneries never stray. They replicate with precision.”
At the other end of the dial is Nike, with its neon lime Volt color, first seen at the 2012 Olympics. To some it is heinous, to others a masterstroke. “That was an intellectual and scientific choice for Nike,” said Bryan Cioffi, Reebok’s vice president for footwear design. “The first color you read in your optical receptors is that super-bright lime. It’s possibly an evolutionary take from poisonous animals and signals danger. A physical thing happens when you see it. Nike triangulated that and repeated it forever.”
Repetition is how you win the color game. You may see Volt and recoil, but you’ll always think “Nike.” As colors go, it is a paradigm for brand marketing. “We did a complete technology innovation study about how color showed up on HDTV and sports tracks,” said Martha Moore, a Nike vice president and creative director. “We were studying the idea of speed and what color complemented that in the vibration of the human eye. Volt is emotional.”
After a year of living our lives almost wholly online, pixel coloration has become even more key. “We are developing colors that appear lit from within,” Ms. Moore said. “Pixels sitting next to one another create previously unseen colors. They create new neutrals and complex combinations. We are using complex knits of yarns, with bright spots and glows that haven’t been seen before.”"