The woman behind the Pantone color of the year

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state.  Aaron Gross
Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington state.  Aaron Gross

The woman behind the Pantone color of the year

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Want to know what color you’ll be wearing next year? What color you’ll be painting your nails? And maybe decorating your house? Look no further than the Pantone color of the year. Or…colors of the year.

The trend forecasting company Pantone Color Institute has picked a light pink and a light blue for 2016. Specifically, Rose Quartz and Serenity.

Courtesy Pantone

The color expert who leads this selection process doesn’t live in  New York or Paris. Instead, Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, makes her home on rainy Bainbridge Island west of Seattle.

This time of year, Bainbridge Island is a pretty foggy, drab-looking place. But on a recent tour of her garden, Eiseman noticed lots of color, even in late fall.

She pointed out hydrangea bushes, where the flowers are now drooping and have turned mostly a muted green.  

“Hydrangeas, I think, are sometimes more beautiful when they’ve died than when they’re alive,” she said, pointing out shades of pink and blue that still tinge the blossoms — the  colors, as it turns out, that she and her team picked for 2016. 

Eiseman has spent her whole life noticing the way colors work together. It runs in her family. Her mom would paint the inside of their home in Baltimore a new shade every spring, even the piano.

“By the time we moved from that house, it must have had at least 20 to 25 coats of paint on it,” she said. “I don’t know how the movers ever picked it up and got it out of there. The weight must have been horrendous.”

Once, her mom was so enthusiastic with her paintbrush that she even painted the broiler.

“Which was not a good idea, because the next time she plugged it in, of course, we almost had the house burn down,” she said. “But that’s the kind of encouragement I got when I was a kid.”

Naturally, Eiseman remembers the color her mom used to paint the broiler: Nile green.

Now Eiseman and her team travel the world to spot color trends. They look at upcoming art exhibits, movies that are going to come out, and what fashion designers are working on — all as part of an effort to figure out what shade matches how people are feeling.

Eiseman travels the world for color inspiration, but also keeps her eyes open close to home, for example, at this rug and jewelry store on Bainbridge Island. (Photo credit: Ashley Gross)

The year 2010 was turquoise – a hint of a tropical vacation in the midst of a lousy economy. The 2015 color of the year was marsala, a dark red that reminds people of wine and eating a good meal.  The 2016 shades are “welcoming colors” that are “an antidote to the stress of modern day lives,” Pantone said in a press release.

“The color has to have some symbolic meaning,” Eiseman said. “What are people telling us their needs are, and how can we help to fulfill those needs with a symbolic color?”

Still, the color of the year is not as well known outside the design world. In a Seattle neighborhood filled with tech workers,  it’s hard to find people who have heard of the 2015 color, marsala.

“Never heard of that word before,” said Jennifer Turner.

“No, I don’t even know what that is,” said Johnny Beuscher. “Marsala? Like the wine?”

But for people who work in everything from product design to advertising to fashion, the color of the year is a big deal. Even more important to designers are Pantone’s big books of color chips, each of which is numbered so that printers anywhere in the world can get the exact shade.

“I would say it’s as important to us as Apple computers are, Mac computers, or the Adobe software that we use,” said Joseph Hughes, art director at Adcom, an ad agency in Cleveland.

He said he pays attention to the color of the year, but he doesn’t go bonkers incorporating each new shade. 

“If you kind of misuse one of these trendy colors, you’re going to end up with something that’s really going to look old in a couple of years,” Hughes said.

Eiseman doesn’t expect everyone to rush out and cloak themselves in the latest color.

Eiseman has displayed a collection of vintage handbags in a bathroom painted maroon. (Photo credit: Ashley Gross)

“It would be an awfully dull world if everybody hopped on the same bandwagon and did exactly the same thing,” she said.

She just wants people to experiment. Eiseman said she’s even inspired some of her neighbors on Bainbridge Island to break out of their Northwest neutrals.

“They will walk up to me and say, ‘Lee, look, there’s your color of the year, do you like it? What do you think?’” she said. “I get such a big kick out of that. It gets people involved in the usage of color, and that’s what it’s all about for me.”

To keep her own spirits up in the rainy months, Eiseman has painted her living room a light yellow to evoke sunlight. And she painted one bathroom – including the ceiling – maroon. Because, well, why not?