A quick flick through my Instagram feed or a scroll through my blog shows you immediately that I love colour. Colour lifts my mood and rejuvenates my face. However, when I’m buying clothes, I’ve always been much more about the style of an item than its exact colour. Even if something was the ‘wrong’ colour for me, I’d make it work the best I could with makeup and accessories. It seems like an impossibly tall order to find something in my size, in my budget, in a style that I like, AND in the perfect colour for my skin tone.
Recently, an old banking client of mine (Hi Polly!) introduced me to Annie from the styling team Red Leopard. Polly thought we’d get along and gosh was she ever right. We all met for lunch and Annie and I squawked like parrots non-stop about colour and style. A couple of weeks later, Annie invited me to meet with her and her colleague Manina for a Red Leopard colour and style consultation. Now, I’ve never really bought into the whole ‘having your colours done’ thing, mainly because most people doing it have absolutely no idea about colour and even less about style (Meow! Can someone get me a saucer of milk, please?). I could see that Annie had buckets of style though, so I figured I’d be in safe hands. Still… I’m a very difficult customer; I’ve been opinionated about style since I was old enough to talk. I warned Annie and Manina before our meeting that I would not wear florals, ruffles, boho, lace, or anything too girly… so not to even try with me! And quite honestly, I thought, what could anyone teach me, Miss Walking Rainbow, about colour?
Well, quite a lot actually. Annie and Manina are not just stylists or colour experts. I don’t even know what to call them. ‘Alchemists of colour and style’ is about as close as I can get! I learned more in my two hours with them than I thought was possible; my head was spinning for days afterwards. I felt like a veil was lifted from my eyes and I was suddenly noticing every colour (people’s clothes on the street, billboards, my garden) and all of its nuances. There are people who are good at what they do, and then there are the people who are so good that they don’t have any competition whatsoever. I’d put Red Leopard in that category. They are SO good, in fact, that Hollywood A listers (and their entire teams) fly to London to use their services. I’m not at all surprised.
Annie on the left and Manina on the right, with their clients draped in colour
Red Leopard relies heavily on the colour theory of Johannes Itten, one of the Bauhaus masters. Itten believed that all colours either have a blue undertone or a yellow undertone (so either cool or warm) and that all colours are either bright or soft (saturation). At Red Leopard, you aren’t simply assessed to be in the spring, summer, winter, or autumn category, but within that range, there are colours that make your face come alive. How to find them? By draping a big scarf of each colour next to your face whilst sitting in natural light and seeing the effect of each colour on your skin.
Despite a night of terrible sleep and with unwashed hair, my skin still looks good next to the right colours
As I went through the extensive collection of coloured scarves, I saw some colours made me look exhausted, accentuated the lines on my face, drew attention to the shadows around my nose, and made the area under my eyes go grey. Other colours (a few I’ve NEVER worn and haven’t ever considered wearing, like the tangerine and the cinnamon in the photo above) made my skin look fresh and blew away all the lines and shadows. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. How could two different colours of blue or two different colours of red each make my face look completely different? Sorcery! Look how different the surrounding colours make the red squares look on the left half or the blue squares look on the right half in the photo below. Now imagine that blue square is your face. The blue is the same in every photo, but it looks vibrant or dull depending on which colour is surrounding it. In the same way, your face looks vibrant or dull depending on how complementary a colour is with your skin tone.Colourwise, I am a spring, and a warm spring at that, so the more yellow undertones in a colour, the better for my face. For example, I light up in a bright grassy yellow green and I age about 20 years in a cold blue-based teal green. That is why the green coat from last week’s post (in the background below) worked so well on me; it is a warm green somewhere between leaf and kerry green in this swatch.
After my Red Leopardification, I won’t just buy colours that I happen to like and hope they look good when I get home. Instead, now that I understand the ‘colour code’ I’ll seek out colours that flatter me. I won’t buy blue just because I love it (which I’ve always done); I’ll look for warmer blues with a pinch of green in them. To make this easier, Red Leopard gave me a small wallet of paper card swatches (in the photo above) of the ideal colours in my range, with a sticker next to the ones that work particularly well on me. I’m not meant to only buy colours that are an exact match to the swatches, but to use them as a reference for finding similar shades, as in the photo above.
Aqua blue sweater and coral collar, two of my best skin-brightening shades, worn together
We focused almost exclusively on colour in my consultation, but Annie and Manina also draw on Carl Jungian psychology in assessing and teaching style to clients. In Jung’s archetypes, I am very much a ‘jester’ which explains the bright glittery statement style that I am drawn to, as a way of connecting with people. Also, I learned about how our clothes and accessories subconsciously signal power and authority to other people. For instance, Manina showed how something as simple as covering your throat (a vulnerable part of the human anatomy) with a scarf, a brooch, a bold necklace, a collared shirt, or a tie (for men) immediately commands authority in an almost military-like way. In my current life this isn’t so necessary, but back when I was a banker, I intentionally and unintentionally used a lot of these subtle cues to ensure I looked authoritative yet stylish without an ounce of frivolity.
Stylewise, one thing that Manina and Annie pulled off was to get me to open my mind about scarves. I usually feel restless and fussy in them, like I’m wearing a soft plastic bag around my neck. I don’t mind them functionally for winter, but decoratively, I’ve never been a scarf wearer. As I stated in a previous blog post, I can look quite Buffy von AirlineHostess in one. My husband loves scarves, and is forever trying to convince me to try beautiful Hermes silk ones. When I put one on though, I instantly look “Madame,” as the French describe it, like the client on the cover of a Swiss private banking brochure. What changed my stony mindset about scarves was trying one on that blasted flattering light onto my face; it was this one in pale aqua blue with bright green branches. However, I couldn’t get past my allergic reaction to the pink floral motif. It is beautiful, just not my style. Instead I got this one (below) but in a warm red and turquoise (my wedding colours) combination. The motif of leopards, stars, and jewellery was much more my style than flowers, and the colours are immediately illuminating on my warm-spring-self. Red Leopard works with scarf designer Ivana Nohel to design their scarves in VERY precise colour palettes to suit their clients. It is a level of attention to detail that fills my inner control freak with glee.
If you are all at sea about your style or your colours, or even if you are confident about them and do it for a job (raises hand), having a second opinion from women as uber-stylish and knowledgeable as Annie, Manina or their colleague Rachel, is a game-changer. It is life-enhancing… at least if you’re as zealous about colour and style as I am. Yes, it will add another layer to your decision making when you shop, but it also will cut down on wasteful spending. It ensures that what is in your closet will make you look and feel great. I see this Red Leopard colour assessment as an investment in myself and in my future wardrobe.
If you are in London, the exquisite Red Leopard offices are in Battersea; go see them and let them work their magic on you. If you’re visiting London, make an appointment to see these ladies; I couldn’t possibly recommend them higher. While they work with Hollywood A-listers and corporate clients, they mostly work with regular people like us, both men and women. They are so warm and knowledgable that I would have followed anything they told me (I mean, they got ME wearing SCARVES for heaven’s sake!). Annie said something in our meeting that has really stuck with me– She said when you are a child in the UK, you have a school uniform, which is either warm or cool in colour, and makes half of students look great and the other half look tired. Then, you go to university, where you dress in whatever is clean and affordable. Then, you start a job and probably wear black and dull corporate colours for years. Basically, many people (me included) don’t have that much choice with their clothes until they reach midlife. By then, your skin tone has changed and you’ve only worn the colours you like rather than what actually suits you. Luckily we’re naturally drawn to the colours that work well on us, but this is more about fine-tuning and precision. That’s my situation anyway, and why my Red Leopard Scarf Moment was such a revelation. I’m a colour lover, but now I’m a swatch-card-carrying educated colour lover, and I look at everything differently.
Disclaimer: this post is not sponsored, despite the evangelical tone 🙂