4 May 2024

Colour instinct: the art of personal colour analysis

From Saturday Morning, 11:30 am on 4 May 2024
Rachel Bilu, a colour analyst

Rachel Bilu, a colour analyst Photo: Colour Lab Stylist

You might remember women "getting their colours done" in the 1980s. Were you a Soft Autumn or maybe a Bright Spring?

Thanks to social media, the art of analysing which shades best complement a person's natural colouring is again having a moment.

Rachel Bilu of Colour Lab Stylist tells Susie Ferguson about the benefits of knowing which colours help you look your best.

The first step is identifying whether someone has cool or warm skin undertones, Bilu says. This is assessed by "draping" their face in different-coloured pieces of fabric and seeing which looks best.

The person can then be categorised as either a Summer, Autumn, Winter or Spring.

Her virtual service involves analysing "really clear photos" of a person's face, showing the shade of their skin and eyes at different ages and in different lights.  

"I cut your little face out of the photo that you've sent. So I don't have your hair in the picture, I don't have your clothes in the picture, it's just your face. And from there, I basically insert that picture into little backgrounds of colours…

"We go back and forth and compare. It's a process of elimination until we come to a conclusion about which colours look best."

While most of her clients enjoy getting confirmation of their "season", Bilu says sometimes people initially reject the palette of colours she recommends they wear.

"I always say to them, 'Just have a think about it, go out to the shops, try on some of the colours, try on some of the makeup, see how you go, you don't have to purchase anything.'

"In every one of those cases, I have had an email back four to six weeks [later] saying, 'You're absolutely right. I was wrong. These colours do look great on me'."

For Summers, Autumns and Springs, this sometimes means saying goodbye to black.

"The colour black is only found in the Winter season, which is heartbreaking for a lot of people as we rely on black very heavily in our wardrobe. But once people get used to it, they start to say, 'Oh yeah, I see that definitely isn't one of my best colours'."

Photo: supplied by Rachel Bilu

Over time, Bilu has learned to see straight away whether a colour accentuates a person's dark circles under their eyes or makes skin imperfections more obvious.

"You don't want to see any yellowing of the skin [from the colour you're wearing] ... You know how people often talk about being washed out? It's that kind of look."

By contrast, wearing a flattering colour can enhance a person's skin, she says.

"You should see a very subtle lift to the jawline or any jowls that you might have. You should see a very subtle airbrushing to the skin so if there are any imperfections, it should even them out a bit. Which is part of the reason it's so important to wear the best colours that you can."

While age will not change your "season", it may lead to a hair colour that "doesn't harmonise" with an Autumn and Spring complexion, Bilu says.

"If you are to go grey and you belong to a cool season, it's going to look fabulous. But if you belong to a warm season and you're going grey, obviously [grey hair] is a bit more cool-toned so typically it's not going to harmonise with your season. This is when [you should] really lean in to the advice surrounding your clothing colours as well as your makeup colours."

A person's natural hair colour will be the most flattering to them nine times out of 10, Bilu says, but some of her clients find artificial hair colour can "elevate" their look.

"Some people just look better with some blonde highlights .. to add a bit of contrast. Other people might find that dyeing their hair a warm red colour when they're naturally a brunette is really flattering, too, if they belong to a warmer season."

Shopping smarter and wasting less

In a cost-of-living crisis, most people don't have money to spare on mistake clothing purchases, Bilu says.

"A lot of people are leaning towards more [of a] capsule wardrobe...  where everything's able to be mixed and matched.

"In the long run, it does save you ... money when you're not wasting [it] on clothes you don't need. And the bonus of that is helping out the environment. As we know, a lot of clothing ends up in landfill so it's great if you can just find things that look good and wear them for years to come.

"When I'm searching online for things I just type in a certain colour that I know looks good on me, find the top in that colour and off I go."

A quest to understand why some outfits didn't look "quite right" in the mirror was one of the main reasons Bilu got into colour analysis.

"[I'd think]. 'This is a nice outfit, objectively, but this pair of pants and this top... there's just something not right.' I've since learned that it was because the colours weren't harmonising properly.

"Now, because everything in my wardrobe matches, I can just grab a top, a pair of [trousers] and run out the door in the morning. And I don't have to stop and think about whether they match 'cause they always do."

Funnily enough, Bilu says, her husband also happens to be a Soft Summer.

"If you have a look at our washing line when I hang everything out, it's all very cohesive and matchy-matchy so it's definitely a bonus."