Colour Matters - Interview of Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute

July 2014

Interview conducted by Cynthia Unninayar

Colour is important on many levels. It enables us to create beauty and express our personal feelings and tastes. For insight into the world of colour as it relates to fashion and jewellery, we spoke with international colour guru, Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute and President of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training. An expert on colour psychology, author of nine books, and in demand as a speaker and trainer, Eiseman helps companies make the best and most educated choice of colour for product development, brand imaging, and interior/exterior design.

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute.
Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute.

CIJT&C : Since we started using the Pantone colour fashion sketches five years ago as a part of our trends pages in CIJ TRENDS & COLOURS, the response has been overwhelming. Our readers—retailers, designers, and consumers—say they love the colourful sketches combined with the colourful jewellery. Why is colour so appealing, so important?

Leatrice Eiseman: Colour is a catalyst for feeling, about how we look, what we wear, how we decorate our home or office, and what we plant in our garden. the right colours stimulate or relax our senses, release happy memories, and reflect how we feel about ourselves and others. Understanding colour is important to any industry whose products involve colour, which means, of course, fashion and jewellery. It is also important to understand the power that colour wields at every level of communication—in corporate/brand identification, packaging, signage, advertising, and point of purchase.

CIJT&C How can retailers use colour when interacting with clients?

LE: Allowing customers to play with colours affords a really creative opportunity. If they are considering a colourful piece, they should be made to feel included in the decisionmaking process as opposed to a salesperson telling them what colours would look good on them or would go well with other colours. For example, the salesperson might ask,“how do these colours appeal to you?” or “let’s look at this combination of tones with your eye colour, skin colour, hair colour, and see how flattering this would be.” It’s important to bring the client into the conversation. Most people in jewellery are well aware of this, but we are all seeking the magic bullet, which is getting the customer involved in the discussion.

CIJT&C : In a retailer’s displays, would you separate coloured stone pieces or put them together?

LE: It depends on how much space there is. I have noticed that, generally, jewellery is separated by colour family and that is a smart thing to do because people tend to gravitate to a particular colour. Having said that, however, it provides a bit of fascination to a grouping of colours to add a few loose stones or single pieces of jewellery to make the display more interesting. For example, a smattering of bluegreens or yellowgreens mixed in with a group of ruby reds will capture the consumer’s eye. This freshens up the display. Because of the emotional appeal of jewellery, retailers don’t need to start from zero to promote the idea of colour, but when they add some additional knowledge about its use, I think you have a winning combination.

CIJT&C : What advice would you o‚er to designers who want to introduce mixtures or combinations of colour into their pieces?

LE: Jewellery designers already have an intrinsic ability and an eye for colour so my advice is: be more adventurous. Try combinations other than what the rules say about the colour wheel. I never use the word rule when it comes to colour.There are always ways to make combinations work because so much of it depends on structure, form, and faceting. When I go to fashion meetings, one of the first things designers do is head to the local museum since they are wonderful repositories of textiles from another time and era, with different types of colour combinations. You can use the colour wheel, but instead of choosing the obvious complementary colours, tweak them a bit. This is what artistry is all about.

CIJT&C : Increasingly more jewellery designers and brands are now naming Pantone colours as the colour choice for some of their collections. For example, we are seeing Radiant Orchid evoked in many purple gemstone lines. How important is colour when it comes to jewellery?

LE: Jewellery and colour go handinhand, unless it is a metallic. Colour is intrinsically the reason people buy jewellery, and it is a purchase that is largely emotional. People choose a colour because they respond to it, because it tugs at them. But at the same time, if consumers are reading that Radiant Orchid is the Colour of the Year, there is a spark of recognition. They may say, “oh, that is a colour I like” or “that is a colour I have not tried, but it is beautiful; maybe I should try it.” The emotional impact is helped along by what they are reading and seeing. I remember when brown diamonds came in so strongly. They captured my attention because they fell right into what I called the Starbucks phenomenon, in other words, how the concept of brown changed so drastically because of the influx of coffee, chocolates, and lattes, and then diamonds.

CIJT&C : Speaking of the Pantone colours, how are the colour trends for its fashion reports determined?

LE:There are two slightly di erent processes, depending on whether it is the Colour of the Year or colours of the season. For the Colour of the Year, for example, Radiant Orchid, we determine it well in advance of the year. We travel the world and look for increased usage of a particular colour or family of colours, in all domains, including fashion, film, technology, and art. We also consider the overall mood of the nation and the world. What colour symbolizes this general mood? We then take all of these clues and place them next to each other. If we see the same colour in many areas, then we have found the Colour of the Year.

CIJT&C : And the seasonal trends, as in Pantone’s designer sketches?

LE: For the colours of the season, it is more straightforward. We ask designers to submit illustrations of the colours they will use in the upcoming seasonal shows along with their reasoning and what has inffuenced them. We put this information into a computer and look at the percentages of designers tending towards a particular colour direction. Based on what the designers are actually using, we then come up with our list of the top ten colours. This all happens approximately six to eight months ahead of the seasonal fashion shows.

CIJT&C : Many trends seem to last seven to ten years. For example, musical hits surge and then fade. How long do colour trends last?

LE: That would have been an easy question to answer ten or fteen years ago. Colours came in and either they captured people’s attention or they did not. When I saw them in the trashcans at Target, I knew they were on their way out. Today, it is just the opposite. We are seeing longer life spans for trends, for many reasons, not the least of which is the economy. When people buy something and are invested in it, they are less likely to say, “I’m tired of it, out it goes.” They are holding onto what they have for longer periods of time. Consumers have a di erent mindset today. Often we hear, “I really like this colour. It speaks to me. I get comments when I wear it” or “I just love the colour of the ring on my finger.” Even if they hear that a colour is “out,” people are not so inffluenced by this anymore and tend to keep what they like.

CIJT&C : What are some examples of the longevity of colours that were considered “out?”

LE:The best examples are the yellowgreens and the oranges, which were “in” and “out” very quickly. On the consumer wordassociation surveys that we conduct, the oranges and yellowgreens were way down at the bottom. People did not respond well to them. There was a time when orange was all about fast food, but there has been a big turnaround. Today, people see what Hermès has done with orange, and it has become aspirational. Even though you still see articles stating that trends pass quickly, I don’t agree. There is evidence of this in fashion where designers continue to use yellowgreens and orange even though Tangerine Tango was Colour of the Year three years ago.

CIJT&C : Might we ask, then, why bother with trends at all?

LE: What trends do today is help encourage people to create combinations that are different from what they had thought of before. Take Tangerine Tango, for example, if you bought an orange out t several years ago and still love the colour, you will keep it and look for ways to combine it with perhaps teal or emerald green. This type of thing is very intriguing to consumers as well as fashion designers, who might consider creating patterns or prints using combinations of colours that consumers still like. This captures people’s attention. That wonderful orange cashmere sweater from three years ago can be dressed up with a teal scarf or emerald brooch for a fresh look. All colours still matter.