“The whole thing is about being a detective,” says Benjamin Moore director of strategic design intelligence Ellen O’Neill as she spreads her case files (a stack of newspaper clippings, tear sheets, and various ephemera bound with a velvet ribbon) across a table at New York mainstay the Odeon. Each year O’Neill and her team of private eyes travel the globe on a top-secret investigation: to distill the ideas and imagery from design fairs, art exhibitions, and cultural happenings into a single color that sums up the contemporary zeitgeist. Considering they have more than 3,500 hues to choose from, it’s no simple feat.
Sometimes the case is difficult to crack (last year’s elusive Shadow required some cross-examination and 2016’s Simply White caused somewhat of a stir). But the 2018 verdict—like so much else of the present moment—was unapologetically strong-willed. It transformed the National Mall into a sea of color at the Women’s March in January, it starred in hit TV shows from the eerie Twin Peaks to the somehow eerier The Handmaid’s Tale. It stomped down practically every runway in February and stampeded onto the streets come September. It clad the glowing interior of a concert hall in Stockholm’s Royal College of Music. And it curved around the corners of Eero Saarinen’s elliptical newly restored TWA lounge. There was no doubt about it: O’Neill (and just about everyone else) was seeing red. Well, Caliente, to be exact—a warm, enveloping hue that’s easy to love.