Colour analysis: fashion’s search for the perfect shade

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erVeronique Henderson is “cool”, “clear” and “light”. She glows in navy and grey, looks great in fuchsia, but in mustard or khaki, she says: “I would look green. Like death.”

If anyone should feel confident about the shades that suit her, it is Henderson, managing director of image consultancy Colour Me Beautiful. The book that launched the business, Colour Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson, was first published 35 years ago this year, pre-dating Trinny and Susannah’s What Not to Wear andGok Wan’s primetime TV banger-squeezing by two decades.

In the 1980s, Jackson’s book became a phenomenon, selling 13m copies and spawning dozens of follow-ups. Intriguingly, Jackson herself was bought out of the company in the mid-1990s and has since “disappeared” (Henderson, tactfully, tells me she isn’t quite sure what happened) but the business remained. As well as the books (Colour me Younger, Colour me Confident and Image Matters for Men: How to Dress for Success are just a few), the company now runs a cosmetics line and, in Europe, a business, training consultants and shop assistants in the art of styling and colour theory.

Originally, CMB customers were either categorised as spring, summer, autumn or winter, but in Europe and the Middle East – where Henderson holds the franchise – six new themes have been developed: light, deep, warm, soft, clear and cool, with 42 possible palettes, when sub-divisions are taken into account. Within the first system: “Any person of colour would be categorised as ‘winter’ whether they were Middle Eastern or Indian,” says Henderson, “and I’m sorry but that just doesn’t work.” The new theory (based on the Munsell colour system) hinges on the idea that as well as suiting different shades, people need varying levels of brightness, or contrast, to look their best.

If CMB sounds like fashion tips from a different era – before Rachel Zoe took Hollywood styling advice to the mainstream; before texting a changing-room selfie to a fashionable friend was an option – the business model is old-school too. Consultants pay to be trained and accredited in the system (£1,295 for a five-day course), then run their own businesses locally, targeting parents’ groups or the WI for business and charging from around £100 for services from colour analysis parties to one-on-one personal shopping. Of 200 consultants, says Henderson, only one is male. Very often, consultants are mothers looking for a second career or supplementary income; sometimes, they are also life-coaches or trained teachers of neuro-linguistic programming and Pilates. “Some do better than others,” she says. “One does it to pay for her children’s school fees; another to pay for her family’s holidays. A few do it for themselves, simply to take their girlfriends shopping.” One of her top consultants is Angi Jones, based in Highgate, north London, who will be analysing me.

Jones is a “soft” and “warm” person (copper-coloured boots, fern-green jeans, apple-green jumper, avocado and charcoal-striped scarf). She welcomes me into her lounge (light mustard walls with plush little ochre sofas) and assesses me while Radio 3 plays soothingly in the background.

First, a large white collar like a nun’s habit is placed over my clothes, which Jones has politely not mentioned (a sludgy grey top with dark blue jeans – pretty standard for me). Next, colour palette bibs are placed on top. In a bib of chocolate brown, deep red, teal and aqua I look as though I have had a good night’s sleep. In pink, ice blue, pale yellow and stone, the colour drains from my face like a Disney princess who has been Frozen. Sure enough, this experiment has had clear results – and Jones makes her analysis. I am a “warm” person, with red hair and pinky skin, but a slightly tricky one. I am also a bit “cool” (grey eyes), although the final verdict is “warm”, “deep” and “clear.” Which, let’s face it, means I have a bit of everything apart from “light” and “soft”, so further information is needed.