The role of a colour trend forecaster: Meet David Shah

In an age of social media and Insta-famous influencers, the word trend is thrown around like confetti and the lines between who sets and follows them is becoming increasingly blurred. And while it may be tempting to believe that social media dictates trends which emerge seemingly overnight and disappear faster than Anna Wintour post runway show, the role of a colour trend forecaster has never been more prominent or crucial.

You see, while the likes of Kim Kardashian may have overhauled their wardrobes into a colour palette of all beige everything, the likes of David Shah were helping designers pick such tones and inject them into their collections years before Kim Kardashian’s fresh new look was on everyone’s lips. Now more than ever, trend forecasters are helping designers navigate through an influx of information and ideas and helping set trends long before they are on everyone else’s lips.

Can you describe your current role and how it came about?

I never understood how I ended up in the world of textiles, and my parents never understood exactly what it is I did. I studied Classics (Latin and Greek) at university and wanted to specialise on Roman military history and do a PhD on the Praetorian Guard (the bad boys in “Gladiator”). I came into textiles via Courtaulds (once a synthetic fibre giant along with ICI, Rhone Poulenc, Montefibre – all names from the past), where I was part of the graduate entry annual intake in the early 1970s. When I joined Courtaulds I thought I was joining the art institute (Courtaulds Art Institute) as a keeper but quickly learnt otherwise. From Courtaulds I became a journalist specializing in textiles and fashion and was actually the first man to win Singer’s Fashion Journalist of the Year Award – to everyone’s surprise.

Why is it important to work with trends?

When I started in textiles there were no trends. It was a market area that developed as I grew more and more into the textile world via journalism and niche publishing. In the beginning, the importance of trend spotting lay simply in giving people (designers, buyers, manufacturers) information on what to produce and what to see. You were pointing the way, helping them to navigate all the roads in the confusing world of fashion. This evolved from pure fashion advice like shape, colour and fabric into marketing strategy, brand behaviour, and consumer lifestyle analysis. Later, the trend package even came to include advice on production locations and, of course, the Internet.

Now, the point of spotting trends has completely changed. There are those who say we are living in a ‘post trend’ era, based around an individualistic and self-determining consumer choosing from an endless array of options, living in an internet world with 60,000 fashion bloggers seeking her attention and high street retailers rotating merchandise every 14 days. Social media, it seems, not traditional forecasting houses, deciding colours and materials two years in advance, ‘dictates’ trends today.

Actually, I do not agree with all this ‘end of trends’ talk. For me, the point of trend spotting today is to offer clarity, to strip away the peripheral, the ‘stuffocation’. Designers know everything already. What they need is not more information but confirmation. Am I doing the right thing? Am I making the right choices?

The fashion industry might be thinking in ‘post trend’ and ‘new individualism’ terms but that does not mean the whole industry is following. There are major manufacturing sectors that need to think four or five years ahead (two years creative + two years marketing planning etc.) and they need all the information they can find. To find reliable ‘forecast’ information, they often end up creating their own ‘trends’, i.e. the movie and entertainment business, the automotive industry, high-end cosmetics and perfumes, and last but not least, gastronomy.

Pantone View – can you talk us through this publication and what your role entails?

There are many colour cards on the market but we think Pantone View Colour Planner is unique. We have chanelled all of the industrial experience of our colour group into producing an easy-to-use card that is economic in cost and economic in time with palettes merchandised into core basics and fashion highlights. Most people think about “fashion” when you mention the word “colour’ but we wanted to create a product that speaks a common language of colour, embracing everything from fashion to interiors, cosmetics to industry.

Our readers come from all sectors of the business from watch to car makers with, of course, a good smattering of fashionistas. I think the success of the product lies not just in the way we forecast colour palettes but how we harmonise colours and put them together. It’s a real toolbox that you can apply to telephones as easily as knitwear.

What is the true role of a colour forecaster? How are colours important in the fashion industry?

Colour is the single most powerful communication tool, influencing 50% – 85% of ideas and product purchase decisions. With 80% of human experience filtered through the eyes, visual cues are vital in getting a message across.  Nothing does this better than the thoughtful use of colour. Pivotal in the design process and an essential element to a successful design strategy, colour should be considered from the moment the materials are being developed and should be a conscious part of every level of decision making from the raw materials that go into the product to the packaging it leaves the store in.

What is your career highlight?

Starting my own publishing company!

Just after midnight on January 9th 1988, I was boarding flight KL 0898 from Hong Kong to Amsterdam. Behind me I could hear a flurry of voices calling out, “You’re mad! You’ll never make it! But goodbye and… Good luck!” I had been attending an advertising conference in Guangzhou, China, with fellow speakers from established European newspaper and magazine titles and I had cheerily told them that, having worked for others for 14 years in textile publishing, I wanted to be my own boss and that I was launching Textile View Magazine. Not only that, I wanted to revolutionise everything that had been done or seen before in B2B publications: I wanted to create something that people would regard as the ‘bible’ of textiles: I wanted to create a magazine that informed but broke new ground in graphics.

Instead of fully qualified journalists who knew how to write ‘correctly’, I was going to form a club of industry professionals who might forget their commas, but knew their business. Like the garment industry, I wanted to produce the magazines in Hong Kong and fly them back to Europe on Flying Tigers…

And so we did. And so it worked. Of course things have changed now, but I like to think that we became more than a magazine to our readers but a friend and consultant.

What is the best thing about your job?

Learning something new and meeting someone new everyday. You never stop learning and everything keeps changing even if it does seem like we are going round in circles.

What people wouldn’t expect about your role?

Actually anyone can do it! I’m just not telling you how!

Current favourite colour and why?

Like the majority of the world, I have always loved blue – midnight blue to be specific! But actually it’s not my personal colour. Whilst co-publishing View on Colour with Li Edeelkort, I visited a couple of chromotherapists in Madrid (this is a whole story on its own). Using the leverage technique and the history of chakras, they led me to understand that my actually colour is yellow (stomach and creativity) – the very colour that I like least!

Colour blocking – talk us through this and how to pair colours

I think at the end of the 1990s and start of the 2000s – a decade of black, grey, beige and white – everyone forgot how to use colour. Remember it’s not just choosing the right colour but how you use it – solid, tone-on-tone, complimentary, contrasting, blocked etc. At this moment of ‘accidental’ design, pairing colours is more complicated (and individual) than ever.