When Melissa met Angela Wright
Angela and Melissa meet at the Goring Hotel, London
Recently I had the great pleasure of talking colour with the world-renowned colour psychologist Angela Wright, whose work explores the mysteries of how colour profoundly influences our moods and behaviours. Angela’s insights into the way we are affected by colour has attracted world-wide attention and has led to her advising industry on the topic – providing colour palettes for branding, packaging, interiors, product design and uniforms for a wide variety of major corporations in the UK, Europe and the US, from Lancôme and The Body Shop to Shell and BT.
After two hours chatting over a coffee at the Goring Hotel in London, Angela and I agreed that as a species our understanding of the power and influence of colour is still in its infancy. We parted using the same phrase simultaneously: ‘Let’s see where this takes us!’ and laughed as we both knew that we had a colourful journey of further discovery ahead of us…
Hello Angela, so good to finally meet you! Can we start by you talking about what first sparked your interest in colour and how you came to develop your Colour Affects theory?
I was brought up in my parents’ hotel in the Lake District and was always fascinated by the colour the guests wore at parties – the men in their black tie and the women in their security blanket black frocks.
Then, as I got older, I began to get involved in the interior design of the hotel. Although architecturally all the rooms were the same, they each had different colour schemes, and we began to notice that the regular guests consistently preferred the same rooms. I remember asking guests, “Why don’t you like that bedroom?” and they would all say the same thing: “I do like it and I wouldn’t dream of criticising, but I just feel better in the other one” and we knew it had to be down to the colour.
After my parents retired and sold the business, I stayed on in the hotel world and started forming ideas about colour because I was beginning to notice the same phenomenon occurring in other hotels. But when I tried to study it I was always told the same thing: that response to colour was too random to predict and too subjective to teach, and that in any case it was all down to age, gender and culture. I didn’t believe that anything that was as fundamental to life as light, which is what colour is, could be random and that there had to be patterns. The next 40 years was a voyage of discovery, and in 1985, having explored colour around the world, I formed a theory about colour psychology and opened the colour consultancy with the sole objective of testing the theory. In 1995 I wrote the The Beginner’s Guide to Colour Psychology, which is still in circulation.
Sounds fascinating. Can you explain the basis of that theory?
The Colour Affects theory is based on the idea of links between patterns of colour and patterns of human behaviour, whereby all the colours available to us can be classified into just four colour families matched by four personality types, which I named Morninglight, Dreamlight, Firelight and Starlight. What I noticed was that each personality type had a clear affinity with one of the four colour groups, and not only did they look and feel better when they wore those colours but they were also drawn to them too.
Interestingly, one thing I wasn’t expecting to find in the course of my studies into colour was that there was a universality of agreement about which colours were harmonious. When we fed all the colours through a computer programme and analysed them we found that as long as you didn’t go outside of the colour group, the colours all harmonised mathematically. I’m not an academic but when I put my theory to an eminent psychologist, he told me I’d plumbed a psychological truth and that he would like to subject it to scientific scrutiny. It came through with flying colours, and has continued to do so to this day.
I like to consider a person as a colour themselves, and what you say about personalities and colours falling into four groups chimes with me because what we’re trying to do at Kettlewell is discover where a person sits on the spectrum and which colours harmonise with them.
Which leads me on to my next question: have you had your colours analysed seasonally?
Yes, when I first came back from my travels in the 1980s, the whole colour thing was coming into our consciousness in the UK, so I went and had it done. I am Firelight [Autumn], although originally I was told I was a Spring. One of the lessons I have learned is that it is best to consider how a person feels about that palette because it’s important not to just override your own personal preferences.
Angela, Melissa and PR Claire
Drawing on your experience of working with hotels, are there are any colours that you think work particularly well in interiors?
Yes, we learned that too much yellow stimulates the emotions and makes it hard to get to sleep. Green and pink, however, is a very good combination for bedrooms because pink is on the red wavelength and soothing, and green is refreshing when you wake up in the morning.
We also found that red worked very well in the bar but if you had too much of it the conviviality turned to aggression, while blue did not work at all in the restaurant – and I've never seen a restaurant where it does.
When it comes to clothes, are there any colours that work particularly well in the workplace?
If you’re applying for a job, you need to marry the job to the colour. To give a few examples, green is the colour of reassurance; when the world around us has a lot of green it indicates the presence of water and, therefore, little danger of starvation – a good time to ask for a pay rise. Bright blue indicates that you know what you're doing and that you take your time to consider all options. Yellow is also the colour of creativity, so works well if you work in design.
You’ve compared colour to music in the past…
Yes, colour produces an emotional response in the same way that music does. There’s no such thing as a wrong or a right note just as there are no bad colours – the key is putting it with colours from its own harmonised colour group.
After 17 years of Kettlewell, I find myself tuning into someone’s colours on the telephone. Most people dismiss it as impossible but I’m using people’s energy and personality traits increasingly to support colour analysis. What are your thoughts on this?
I knew we were kindred spirits! Strangely enough, I have never really thought much about it until now, but now that you have articulated it I recognise that I do exactly the same – but I’ve never tried to describe it before. The biggest challenge I have, though, is trying to put all of that out of my mind until I meet the person, because there’s always a chance I could be wrong. I'm confident I haven’t been in 40 years but there’s always a first time!
If you would like to have your colours analysed, visit our Find a Colour Stylist page for a list of trained consultants in your area