Colour Theory

2nd January 2015

Jill Glenn is transformed at the hands of House of Colour’s Helen Norman

You’re instructed to arrive for a House of Colour consultation wearing no cosmetics and minus your earrings – the equivalent of being naked, as far as I’m concerned – so it feels particularly cruel to be greeted at the door by a perfectly made-up, beautifully coiffeured and accessorised Helen Norman. She looks chic and in control. I don’t.

I resolve to avoid looking in the mirror, but that proves to be in vain. After a brief, interesting introduction during which we cover the basic principles of the colour wheel and learn that all but one colour is made up of either more yellow or more blue (the exception is true pillarbox red, which is therefore technically neutral – and which can, apparently, be worn by everyone, regardless of skin tone or hair colour), it’s all about the mirror. ‘You’ll be in the chair for up to an hour,’ Helen explains, as she settles me down in front of a grim reflection of myself and begins the analysis.

The aim is to find the colours that are going to make you look amazing. Whereas wearing clothes in the right shade makes you look healthy, removing dark shadows and giving you that ‘just come back from a relaxing holiday’ vibe, the wrong colour is draining and ageing. Time and again Helen says ‘No, you look washed out,’ as she whisks one square of coloured fabric away and replaces it with another… and another… and another. By the end of the process I’ll be either ‘autumn’ or ‘spring’, wearing shades that are warmer (more yellow) and gold jewellery – or ‘winter’ or ‘summer’, looking better in cooler colours with more blue in their mix, and favouring silver. Every palette contains some shade of every colour, so you needn’t fear that you’re going to be told never to wear, say, green again – but you will be told which shade of green to choose, and it’s learning to acknowledge and manage those subtleties of tone that makes all the difference.

First we establish which half of the colour wheel harmonises better with my natural skin tone, hair and eye colour. It’s not about the colours you like, but the colours that do something magical for you. Putting a blue-based shade up first each time, Helen compares royal blue with kingfisher, fuchsia with rust, emerald with moss, magenta with coral. “I’m starting to see a preference for the blue-based tones,” she says, creating a swathe of them, adding some silver jewellery and holding the whole selection under my chin. I look surprisingly alive. She does the same with the swatches she’s rejected, plus toning gold jewellery, and we both shudder: the collection, which would look great on someone else, looks cheap and dull on me; my skin looks greyer, and even my eyes have lost their shine.

Invigorated, I no longer mind about my unmade-up self; it’s just fascinating to see this all come together. Helen determines the next level – winter v summer – via more comparisons: electric blue v cornflower, damson (“that looks amazing, that’s a really good colour on you”) v plum, light emerald v pine. It doesn’t take long to see that I’m a winter, favouring stronger colours throughout the palette, and then we move on to the really detailed section, in which you learn how much of each shade you can wear. I would, for example, apparently look great in 100% damson, or burgundy, or charcoal – but should never wear more than 75% black, or 50% in white. There are 36 shades in the palette, and I have a rating for all of them, along with a little leather wallet with examples. It’s convenient when you’re shopping (and when you know what suits, it halves the time spent on fruitless trips into the changing room with garments you love but that do nothing for you). A useful tip for those startled by the revelations of their colour analysis is to go out without the intention of buying: ‘Just practise the colours, practise trying them on and seeing how they look.’

Attention turns to make-up, and Helen’s skill is evident here, too. By the time she’s sorted out the right foundation and blusher I look considerably better than I did when I arrived. She also explains why a woman needs only three shades of lipstick (it’s to do with the ‘three points of red’ in your palette) – and directs me to a fuchsia tone that I would never have selected in a million years but which I absolutely love.

It would be easy to be cynical about this process, but its basis is surprisingly scientific (the colour wheel was devised by Bauhaus, Germany's most influential art and design school) and it is consistent. This isn’t the first time I’ve had my colours analysed, and Helen is adamant that I mustn’t tell her the result of my previous class. By the end she has categorised me exactly as my first consultant did, around ten years ago – and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for it. Paring down the unsuitable garments that have found their way into my wardrobe and adding some statement pieces will be a New year pleasure.

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