Color spotting, messages and meanings

Lori Ehrig
On Design

Although David Letterman tried to tease her when she appeared on his show awhile back, Leatrice Eiseman sees nothing funny about being a professional color expert. In her new book, “Color: Messages and Meanings,” she explains that spotting future color trends is much like detective work. “It’s not the one big ‘Aha’ that hits you but rather a string of clues that leads to the ultimate realization,” she writes. The most obvious clues come from the world of fashion, but one showing on the runway doesn’t create a trend; seeing a “new” color appear over several seasons does.

Eiseman is arguably the most well known color expert and trend forecaster today. She is the director of the Pantone Color Institute, and lives on Bainbridge Island, where she founded the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training. Once each year she offers a four-day seminar devoted entirely to understanding the nuances of color while learning to spot and forecast color trends. Prospective students apply months in advance and come from all over the world. I happened to be lucky enough to have taken the class along with 11 other color professionals, including Eiseman’s own daughter, Bea Stone, a Los Angeles-area interior designer.

Having the instructor’s daughter in the class definitely provided some comic relief at break time. Stone shared stories about her famous mother, like the time she was in college and learned that her mom had been invited to be a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman. Horrified that her mother would be publicly humiliated by Letterman, she asked, “But Mom, do you KNOW who he is?!”

Eiseman wasn’t the least bit phased at the prospect and knew full well that Letterman was gaming to make a joke out of someone who made a career as a “color expert and forecaster.” So she took control of the situation by placing color swatches on his lap and asked him to hold each one up to his face to determine what colors worked best for him personally. She gave him a thumbs-up for his best colors and a thumbs-down for the not so great ones, and she had the audience in the palm of her hand…

Eiseman says that the art of color trend forecasting is much more about compiling and analyzing data than making proclamations as to what is or will be in or out. Color forecasters look to the economy, world politics, popular culture, fashion and Hollywood for their cues. She says that the release of “Shrek” and “Finding Nemo” dramatically influenced the use of chartreuse green and bright orange in children’s products.

Although there is really no such thing as a “new” color, there are just new contexts in which colors are placed, making them seem original. You may groan at the thought of the 1980s mauves and grays that were everywhere paired with teal, or the 1970s proliferation of avocado, rust and harvest gold. However, if you look carefully right now, you’ll see an influx of warm grays, rich aquas, earthy greens, rustic terra cottas and sunlit golds. All are colors similar to those used in the past, but now are used in different combinations and contexts. Eiseman likes to compare the real estate adage of “location, location, location” to the study of color; where it’s all about context, context, context. Her new book “Color: Messages and Meanings” is available at Island Books.

Lori Matzke Ehrig is an interior designer and freelance design writer. She can be reached at

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