Ten Minutes With Leatrice “Lee” Eiseman // Colorful Personality & Pantone Pro

By Valerie Reinke

Leatrice “Lee” Eiseman recalls, from childhood, her mother’s springtime ritual of repainting their Baltimore row home’s interior as a hallmark influence. Today, the internationally known and cosmopolitan color expert heads Pantone’s Color of the Year selection committee, shaping everything from fashion to floral, furniture to phone cases—essentially providing the whole world an annual color overhaul. She graciously offered her time to talk tint.

When did you first realize that color was an important factor in your life?

I don’t ever remember a time when color wasn’t important to me. When I was a teenager, my mom gave me free rein in my bedroom, so I chose a Chinese-influenced theme with red walls and an enameled black desk. I’ve never been curtailed from the use of color, I’ve only ever been encouraged.

How did you become the Pantone color expert?

In the ’80s, the man who started Pantone, Lawrence Herbert, began to think about the psychology of color, asking why people choose specific colors or what a particular color means. Someone gave him a copy of my first book, Alive with Color, at the same time he was searching for an executive director for Pantone’s Color Institute.

What was Pantone’s first Color of the Year?

Remember back in 1999 when we were all worried about “Y2K” and whether our computers would crash? We chose a color for 2000 that personified the future: a millennial blue, because it was hopeful, clean and enduring. We wanted to embrace the idea of the steadfast, constant sky.

You name the Pantone colors. What are your favorites?

Mimosa, Brandied Melon, Grenadine, Tiger-Lily, Radiant Orchid, and jewel tones like Garnet and Emerald.

How do you help your coporate clients?

They often need color validation. Color is not just throwing darts at the Pantone charts and seeing where they land. It requires research and it’s based on a lot of criteria, not the least of which is knowing a target audience and their lifestyle.

What color is your home’s exterior?

Barn red. It’s just such a happy color.

The interior?

One of my favorites is a “dirty” yellow in my dining and living rooms. I’ve added a little bit of an earthy touch to the yellow, taking it down a notch. When people come in they often remark that it’s so warm, so inviting.

Your personal favorite color?

It has changed over the years but I find myself attracted to the purple family. I love its complexity. It has two sides that are seemingly diametrically opposed: the sensual, exciting, adrenalin-popping red side and the meditative, quiet and Zen blue side.

What are you reading?

I’m actually re-reading Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses. It’s fascinating.

Any color advice for us islanders?

Keep an open mind. I try to dispel countless urban legends like the old rules dictating what-goes-with-what. If you have a favorite color, find a way to make it work. Don’t worry about what other people think; let your heart speak and let the artist in you come out.