Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: You are, in fact, seeing cobalt blue everywhere.
When millennial pink dominated in 2016, it was believed to be a response to current events (“a moment of ambivalent girliness,” wrote Véronique Hyland in The Cut); so is the prevalence of cobalt blue, a shade that’s highly saturated yet cool. Bold, yet soothing.
Fashion designer Azeeza Khan, a fan of pigmented colors, insisted that she use cobalt blue in her recently released outdoor furniture line with CB2. “With so much turmoil in the world right now, it’s important to bring joy to life’s moments. Color serves as a mood lifter and cobalt evokes tranquillity,” she said.
Blue reminds us of the ocean and skies, but Ms. Khan, who lives in Chicago, added, “the saturation of cobalt blue adds an intensity and strength that feels provocative.”
Angeles Morales, 23, felt compelled to incorporate cobalt blue into her senior collection at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). One of her core garments was a crop top with long, puffed sleeves in a luminous cobalt blue silk taffeta. “For me it’s a very powerful color,” comparing it to “royalty in a way, but at the same time, it’s a calming color.”
A survey conducted by the home décor retailer 1stDibs anticipated the color’s popularity when 750 participating designers identified cobalt blue as the top blue of the year (interest in navy, by contrast, dropped 43 percent since last year, the company said). It’s proven out as information provided by the RealReal shows that there’s been a 35 percent increase in demand for cobalt blue pieces across their secondhand marketplace since the second half of 2021.
While cobalt blue is enjoying renewed popularity, it is in fact a hue with rich history — elemental, even. Cobalt is silvery-blue metal in its raw form, and was used in Chinese porcelain and Babylon ceramic glazes because of the vibrant hue created when fired.
Chemist Louis Jacques Thénard created a synthetic version of the color in the early 1800s and it quickly became popular with artists like Vincent Van Gogh, who used it in “Starry Night.” The hue also has famous associations like Jardin Majorelle, the one-time estate of Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh.
Cobalt blue-hued dyes gained popularity in women’s garments in the 1830s, said Sarah Collins, a professor of fashion at SCAD. “Previously, blue had long been a popular color, especially for royalty and people of importance — think about how the Virgin Mary is often depicted in bright blue — since it faded quickly and had to be redyed, therefore making it expensive,” said Ms. Collins. In the early 1800s, “the new cobalt blue was fade-resistant, making it popular as a dye.”
Ceramist Sherród Faulks, 34, of Deep Black, has an affinity for the color thanks to a “happy accident” in his Portsmouth, Va. studio. He experimented with a new blue glaze in the summer of 2020, and when Mr. Faulks pulled the piece out of his kiln he was smitten with the striking shade.
It quickly became a staple of his collection — he dubbed it “sapphire” — and it caught the attention of brands like Madewell and Great Jones. Because it’s so rarely seen in nature, “it’s one of those colors that screams man-made in, I think, the best way possible,” said Mr. Faulks said. “It has an almost mythical quality to it.”
Other deep, saturated blues similar to cobalt blue are also popular right now. Lapis is one such blue, for example, which shares a similar essence in the sense that it’s oceanic, highly pigmented, and is historically associated with wealth: Lapis lazuli was a highly sought out Egyptian stone that was ground up to create the color ultramarine.
Accessories designer Lele Sadoughi introduced a “healing stone collection” of earrings and headbands earlier this year with colors inspired by jade, quartz and obsidian (and used the stones themselves). “Our lapis earring drops and matching headband have been the most popular stone for us,” said Ms. Sadoughi. “I think this deep blue still feels like a neutral, but is richer than your classic black and ivory.”
Maddy Hart, 32, is an environmental planner in Tallahassee who was drawn to reds and oranges in décor and fashion for most of her life — until she purchased a swimsuit from Youswim in cobalt blue last year. She began incorporating the color into her wardrobe and even has plans to paint her bathroom vanity in cobalt blue.
“I’ve realized over the past year of looking for this color instead of other colors, it’s very calming,” Ms. Hart said, adding “it’s also attention-grabbing in a very positive way to me.”