The Man Who Predicts Color

Posted on 15 December 2010


By Claire Walla

How do you plan for the future?

Keith Recker starts with two 35-pound boxes of pictures and, after he scans this imagery and considers countless other artistic and visual sources, he reduces the future to 50 swatches of Pantone color.

Recker — who lives on Shelter Island and recently moved into an office in Sag Harbor — is a color forecaster, which, in the simplest of terms, means he predicts which colors will dominate the retail market two years from now.

In addition to Pantone, an internationally renowned corporation that has created over 3,000 copyrighted colors and color-schemes used in dyes, fabrics and computer graphics around the world — he also submits forecasts twice a year to a global trend-forecasting company called WGSN, the self-proclaimed “fashion capital of the 21st Century.”

Recker’s color schemes today will be used to spark conversations tomorrow among clothing designers and retailers, like Target, for instance, who will turn to his color palettes for creative inspiration.

“It’s about suggesting different combinations of color that can be used to make new products, and doing so in the context of a narrative that may be interesting two years from now,” said Recker, one of just a handful of color forecasters in the world.

But color is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I use words, as well as visuals,” Recker explained while flipping through a Power Point presentation of his Spring 2011 collection. The presentation begins with a stack of rectangular color samples, which rest beneath a headline that explain the palette’s overall theme.

“In this 2011 collection I’m trying to talk about walking forward through the great recovery, shaking off the dust of the stuff we’ve been through and really starting to allow ourselves to get enthused and live again.”

This theme emerged after Recker said he floated “a zillion” other ideas all based on certain trends, images and ideas he sifted through while trying to boil the future down to a single concept.

“I’m forever looking for books and magazines and interested in what films are bubbling up and what they look like,” he said. ”One season I find that all of a sudden I’m presenting several dozen pictures from contemporary photography and the next time it’s manuscripts from 20th century America, Asia and Europe.”

When asked where his inspiration comes from, Recker smiled.

“I don’t want to know,” he said. ”To me it’s less about understanding why it’s happening than seeing it happen and letting it flow. There’s no recipe here. The product world thrives on new. Too much repetition and you’re dead in the water.”

Speaking of new, on December 10, Pantone announced its “color of the year” for 2011 — Honeysuckle, a warm tone between pink and red which the company describes as “a captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going — perfect to ward off the blues.” Last year’s color, by the way, was turquoise. Though Recker said he has nothing to do with choosing the color of the year, per se, the concept behind it matches his narrative for the coming year.

To focus his Spring 2011 palettes, Recker chose to present them using five different personality types: the Contemplative, the Wanderer, the Seducer, the Wallflower and the Romantic.

Recker’s presentation for the Contemplative, for example, is a blend of earth tones ranging from cream-colored shades to muted reds, followed by a series of artistic and graphic design images, including a picture of chestnut brown hair pinned back with a clip made to look like a small twig.

“[The Contemplative] is people being very thoughtful about what’s going on,” Recker explained. “There’s going to be some neutrals and some naturals; but, the insistence on prettiness is coming back, so we see beautiful lavenders and a beautiful, dark red.”

This concept is similar to a color palette Recker projected two years back, which emphasized recycled and environmentally friendly design.

“You had lots of cardboard color, craft paper, those shades of green that signaled sincerity and naturalness,” he said.

That idea of using “gritty” recycled materials, however, has run its course, Recker said.

To explain the difference, Recker points to a shade of pale white from the Contemplative color palette on his computer: “This is wood that hasn’t been stained, or pushed through a chipper and reconstituted with environmentally safe epoxy,” he said. “It has the simplest, freshest wax treatment.”

Though Recker has yet to see whether these 2011 predictions are on the ball, the present moment is a fleeting concern for a forecaster. Recker is already planning for 2013.

And as for what we can expect to see in 2012, Recker said the presidential elections will most likely play a big part in forming our national mindset.

“You can probably predict a pretty high volume [of interest] and lots of shouting. So, how’s that going to feel? How’s that going to look? How is our visual environment going to accommodate that?”

After a silent pause, Recker answers.

“In our cultural context, colors have messages,” he said. “ And you [have to] pay attention to what has already been done and what feels like it has a lot of energy, as well as what the likely social, psychological, emotional, political and economic landscapes are. Then, somehow, it just happens. A picture comes together.”

“You just have to think about it,” he added. “You just have to think about it all the time.”

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