Leatrice Eiseman: The International Color Guru

Leatrice Eiseman is Head of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training and Executive Director of the Pantone® Color Institute – which declares the “Color of the Year” every twelve months, publishing reports and research that have a strong global influence on fashion, interior design, products and the visual arts. She is a real authority in the world of color, recognized by “Home Furnishing Now” as one of the fifty global “Top Style Makers” for five years in a row, and ranking even higher than Steve Jobs amongst the world’s ten most important “Outsider Influencers”. “Fortune Magazine” and “The Wall Street Journal” have described Eiseman as one of the most influential minds in her field; she is the author of nine books on color and advises companies and individuals on color trend forecasting, brand color development, custom color solutions and product palette selection. All under the motto, “When 80% of human experience is filtered through the eyes, we understand that the choice of color is critical.” We talked with Eiseman about this and much more, and here is what she told us.

When did your passion for color start? And how did you start your career as a color consultant?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by color and have had a talent for selecting and combining colors. I believe much is inborn, like the ability to draw or play a musical instrument from an early age. However the quest for color knowledge is unending: I was a teacher before I was a consultant and I loved teaching color, as it has always been a long-time passion. Whenever I came into the classroom and mentioned that the lesson plan included color, there was always great enthusiasm. I was not only the teacher but also became the student, as the subject always demands ongoing research and study.

You placed high on several ranking lists of the most influential creative personalities in the world. How do you feel about that?
It is exciting but very humbling at the same time. I feel a responsibility when people value my opinions and look to my guidance in their work.

What was the biggest challenge in your professional career?
I think for most women with children the biggest challenge is balancing your life, so that you can fulfill your professional obligations and also spend quality time with the family.

When a company requests a consultation, what steps do you usually take together?
There are many steps that can vary depending on the company. Some of them are asking what image the company wishes to portray, especially if a branding message is sought. Who is the targeted audience or consumer? Is this an update of an existing product, or a new product? What are the benefits and function of the product? Are there any marketing studies that have been done? If not obvious, where will the product “live”? Who are the major competitors?
After we get these answers (and other useful information) we can proceed to provide our color knowledge and expertise.

Every year, the Color of the Year is selected by analyzing consumers’ and society’s feelings and attitudes, condensing them in a single hue. How do you approach the final selection?
I can highlight some of the major areas, but cannot share the exact process as that is proprietary. There are a number of indicators that point to the eventual decision about the color of the year. Amongst other things, we research the general mood and aspirations, moods and attitudes of consumers. We review the cyclical pattern of color popularity and the history surrounding it. We research the world of art, film and other entertainment outlets, major sports events, fashion, cosmetics, socio-economic conditions and any other area we feel is noteworthy from an international perspective. We even travel to various areas around the world observing color usage and direction.

In a previous interview you said the 2017 Color of the Year, Greenery, represents a longing for wellbeing and escape from the everyday stress that forces us to always be connected, wits an undertone of yellow that is meant to express hope. The colors you picked for 2016, Quarz and Serenity, also met a similar need. Considering the complicated times we are living, do you think the 2018 trend will still steer us towards a hue of peace, faith and serenity?
We listen carefully to what both consumers and designers are telling us about their needs and aspirations, but color is very symbolic and represents many emotions. We evaluate color from a psychological perspective and choose a hue that best expresses those needs and emotions. Of course we know we are living in very complicated times, so doing the same kinds of colors every year would not adequately represent the upcoming trends and leading indicators we are seeing. For example, the concept of restoration is very much expressed psychologically with the color green, however there are other means of expressing a kind of restoration and renewal that could suggest colors other than green.

Can you please indicate some colors that can match Greenery, in home decor or fashion?
My special favorite is green with various fuchsia, plum, aubergine, hot pink or burgundy tones. It is very sophisticated and brings a certain complexity to the combination. Greenery is also effective with neutral, light pink and rose tones, as they are very complementary – it’s ideal for people who prefer less complex combinations.

Pantone’s Colors of the Year are determined in the balance between what is happening with colors naturally and the emotional desires of the public. What category of colors do you think people will love next? 
I help to develop a home forecast for Pantone every year, and what I attempt to do is to highlight the kind of lifestyles that are most directional and show the color combinations that best express them. There are many different comfort levels and not everyone decorates or feels exactly the same about the colors they use in the home. However, there are some general categories that are placed into eight different palettes of color so that consumers (and designers) can identify what works best for them or their clients. The eight palettes are described by specific names: Resourceful (creative restoration blended with a touch of the new), Playful (full of joy and fun expressed primarily in vibrant colors), Discretion (expresses a modest luxury in softer light to mid-tones), Verdure (an assemblage of the green family showing freshness and regrowth), Far Fetched (distant influences that integrate in unpredictable ways and color choice), Intricacy (metallic detailing and intricate patterning), Intensity (the concentrated strength of modern jewel tones), and Tech-Nique (cutting edge color effects and technological influences).

In what segment of society do you think that colors are most important, influencing people’s and consumers’ choices the most?
Until about 15-20 years ago, fashion and beauty and certainly the world of art were always the undisputed leaders as color indicators. However, that gradually changed when graphic design started to be recognized as an art form and then industrial design started to embrace more color. As a color forecaster I look at many industries, including fashion and beauty, but then go also beyond those disciplines as design creativity can come from many sectors today.

If you could choose a color to describe society in this specific moment, September 2017 – so we are not asking you for a forecast here – what would you choose?
I would still remain with green, especially as there is so much concern about preservation of nature and climate change, which are both so intrinsically linked to green.

Do you think that the most loved colors are always influenced by culture? Or are there colors that are universally loved and used?
Although culture can certainly play a role in color favorites, from an international perspective it is color in relationship to what we see in the natural world around us that helps to form color perspective. The most obvious example is the blue family. If you lived within a culture that did not honor blue or had a general dislike for whatever political reasons there might be, then that could color your thinking. However, no matter where you might live in the world, blue is most often evocative of a clear blue sky or the thoughtful deep blues of twilight.

When Pantone tells us what color will be the next Color of the Year, what happens to last year’s? Do you think the two could be integrated in some way? Do you consider this at all, when you have to decide?
We always make an effort to integrate the color of the preceding year with the new color. Sometimes it makes for unexpected outcomes, but that is what is so fascinating about color: creating combinations can be the most effective and inventive exercise that can really inspire consumers and designers. It is also obvious today that people are less inclined to simply discard garments and home products, so I feel that part of my purpose is to show them how they might better coordinate the old with the new, mixing some nostalgia with modernity and providing a more eclectic look. I write about this and have included many interesting combinations in my newest book, “The Complete Color Harmony” (Pantone Edition, Rockport Publishing).

Do you think some colors are always in vogue?
In two of my books – “Colors for Your Every Mood” and “More Alive with Color” (available on our website: www.colorexpert.com) – I discuss what I refer to as the “Crossover Colors”: the shades that include not only the neutral tones such as gray, camel, sand and taupe, but other tones that function as classic. Some of the colors included in that list are teal, aubergine, khaki, forest green, burgundy, navy, true red and sky blue.

Let’s talk about the metallic colors trend. How long do you think that this trend will last?
Metallics will continue to proliferate because technology is constantly pushing the boundaries. There are new finishes and treatments all the time, so I don’t see the trend going away. In addition, consumers love the special effects that are presented.

What importance does color have in your everyday life?
It is enormously important and always has been. It is an amazing outlet for creativity and brings such enjoyment to our daily lives.

Can you tell us what kinds of color are in your home? Do you choose them instinctively, picking up the ones you like, or do you select them knowing exactly the effects they have on the state of mind?
I choose with both of the above in mind. It is difficult for me to dislike any color as I believe it is all about how they are combined with others. At the same time, I live in the Pacific northwest of the U.S., which is similar in feeling to London, with many gray days in winter. That is actually good for color matching, but psychologically humans tend to seek more sunshine on those gray days. As a result, I have used a subtle warm honey yellow tone that simulates the feeling of sunshine on the walls that one first sees when entering my home.

And what about your wardrobe? What colors are in it?
As you can imagine, I do love many colors in my wardrobe – so I have a mix of many colors, with scarves and jewelry that help to make the connection between them.

One last question… Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year will be announced in a few months. How can we reconcile objects’ durability with our desire to be on trend?
We always choose colors that will be compatible with many other shades, and in today’s world there is much more understanding about being more inventive in the use of color. That is always my personal goal, as well as showing people how color can enrich, educate and express the creativity that inherently lies within them.

Interview by Barbara Palladino

© Leatrice Eiseman

© Pantone 

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