Jotun’s Lisbeth Larsen talks colours, trends, and fashion
Trends. No company worth its R&D budget can ignore them. In every corporation, across every industry, in every part of the world, there are armies of people trying to second-guess what consumers will want – next week, next month, next season, next year and beyond.
Of course, the fashion industry is at the forefront of this movement – although it is not always clear who is setting the trends and who is responding to them; whether they are born out of demand at street level or trickle down from the top; whether they meet a need or create it (don’t forget Steve Jobs’s “How does somebody know what they want if they haven’t even seen it” quote); and whether they are, in fact, nothing more than self-fulfilling prophecies.
Either way, no one is entirely immune – just think back to that famous “sweater” scene in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl Streep’s character, widely understood to be a caricature of Anna Wintour, American Vogue’s formidable editor-in-chief, is giving her assistant a dressing-down and, by extension, inviting anyone who thinks that they are above or beyond the reach of the trend machine to think again.
“You go to your closet and you select that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back,” Streep says in her fabulously disdainful way. “But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers … that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.”
Of course, the interiors industry is as influenced by trends as any other – perhaps more so because it is so closely associated with fashion. And as the global colour and creative director of the Norwegian paint brand Jotun, Lisbeth Larsen is one of the people responsible for identifying those trends and then translating them into products that people want (or perhaps even need) in their homes. She is the woman putting cerulean on to walls, so to speak.
“My role entails working with global trends, key insights and colours,” Larsen explains. She is responsible for all the new colours that Jotun launches, for the company’s colour cards and colour trend reports and for conducting the research that results in those final products. Which, she claims, is the “best possible job in the world”.
The process hinges on exhaustive research. Larsen and her team visit interior-design fairs and exhibitions around the world to gain key insight into what the rest of the industry is doing. They also look closely at consumer behaviour and purchasing decision trends, which include everything from customers’ favourite colours (and whether this changes from season to season) to their everyday lifestyle choices and preferences, down to what food they like to eat.
Naturally, they also look to the catwalks of Paris, London, New York and beyond. “Fashion is key in selecting colours for our autumn/winter and spring/summer collections, and for these paints we look at the runways of the most influential fashion houses to find inspiration and trends we can reflect in our collections. Fashion, art, style and decor are all linked and share common elements. When choosing decorative paints, we try to see what the overall trends across these practices are.”
Once a year, Jotun launches its global colour card, which highlights around 25 shades that the company believes best capture the mood of the moment. “I try to mix in some best-selling colours with some new and trendy nuances to create an exciting offering,” Larsen says. “The reason I choose to not only use new colours each year is because most of the colours we create in our pigment laboratories become iconic. I believe in mixing classic and iconic colours with some new, fresh and trendy ones. The end result is based on key interior trends, current fashion insights and what will ultimately look good on walls.”
The latter is, of course, vital. However “on trend” a colour might be, if it doesn’t look good on a wall, its no use to anyone. As it is, people are still wary of colour in their homes, says Lisbeth, or, more specifically, of experimenting with colour and getting it wrong. “I often find that homeowners are not too confident about adding colour to their homes for fear that they will ruin the aesthetics of a room. Colour is a brilliant way to change the look and feel of any space. Paint is rather inexpensive in the Middle East, so people can redo their rooms or completely transform them as often as they like.
“My advice to people would be to have a think about the entire room and all its furniture components before choosing a colour. Is there a specific tone that will pull all the pieces together to make one cohesive room? Start putting together a mood board with images of all the elements that inspire you.”
So what hot new shades can we look forward to in 2015? According to Larsen, the coming year is all about “floating” colours that seamlessly meld and blend into each other. The idea behind this trend is that people want to create a sense of balance – in their lives and in their homes. “So whether people are seeking quiet time in a relaxing surrounding, or homeowners are in need of more energy, each theme within our new colour card has beautiful colour “neighbours”. This means that if customers prefer a green/blue palette, they will have a range starting from a very soft neutral shade, floating into more coloured nuances and leading up to a dark version.
“In addition to a green/blue variant, we will also present two other palettes; one is about a nude and soft skin colour range where pink and red are important shades, and the other theme is based on black, white and greys combined with stunning yellow shades where the main focus is more graphic and masculine.”
And does the Norwegian company, which was launched in Sandefjord in 1920 and made its name supplying whaling ships, have to radically alter its offering to appeal to the UAE market? Apparently not. The company opened a factory in Dubai in 1975 and has had a presence in the Middle East ever since, so it is no stranger to the needs of its customers in this part of the world.
“Consumers across the Middle East are curious about international trends and want to incorporate key trends into their homes,” says Larsen. “What I find most interesting about the region is how willing people are to take risks and experiment.”
And, as in fashion, when a risk pays off, the results are outstanding.
Published: December 18, 2014 04:00 AM