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Blog - A Visual Journey

A visual journey through my eyes…

Color & Pattern Interviews: La Maison du Pastel

I have traveled to over 52 countries for trend research from Kyoto to Jaipur, Buenos Aires to Copenhagen. Over the years, I have seen and stumbled upon some amazing boutiques, restaurants, designers, etc. I have been asked about my favorites so I am starting a Color & Pattern interview series as a way for me to feature some of these people and places I have found, to give a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes, but to primarily focus on (surprise!) color and pattern.

Kicking off this new series I interviewed a company who makes colors for a living, La Maison du Pastel. They are the oldest pastel manufacturer in the world, with a rich history starting in the early 1700’s. To this day they continue to make each pastel completely by hand using centuries old tools and techniques. Today, they currently have around 1,450 colors for sale and continue to experiment with new pigments. This past spring I was lucky enough to visit their atelier (only open in the afternoons on Thursdays) and fell in love with their story and the world of color they have created. The quality of the pastels are incredible - the colors are so rich and vibrant when put to paper, it’s as if you can feel the history and passion that goes into making them. Enjoy!

1. Why do you keep making the pastels by hand after all these years? For example, is the quality or color better due to this process or is it to keep history alive?

By hand-rolling the pastels, we are most notably able to charge our pure colors with an exceptional concentration of pigment. The more pigment involved, the more likely a pastel paste is to be difficult to manipulate in general, let alone put through a machine such as an extruder. There are a few colors in particular that are very very difficult for us to produce (our exceptionally dark 9181 Extra Black and the metallics), but we manage due to our patience in manipulating these sometimes awkward textures.

We do also love our old, simple tools and methods that much more because they still work like a charm!

2. How long does it take from start to finish to create a pastel?

The easiest way of answering is to take the example of when we make a new color range for the first time. Before anything, there is the time needed to develop a formula, which could be a matter of hours, days, or even years if we don't have the right pigments. Once a formula is ready to be scaled up, the whole process of weighing and grinding the color and (most commonly) white pastes, making the nine-step gradation, and rolling the nine "tiles" (about 80 sticks each) takes around a week. The sticks air dry for around a month, depending upon the pigment composition and season.

3. You posted a photo of new colors you are testing out. Can you give any insight into what all of the new colors will be? Or is there a specific color palette you are currently trying to create?

We're actually in a rather fertile period for making new colors: Margaret is hitting her stride in formulating; our recently renovated atelier makes the fabrication process more efficient than ever; and the summer months are always slow sales-wise so we have ample free time to develop.

Week by week we are just making the colors we want to, aware that all the options we have on the table will strengthen our range as a whole. We'd say they primarily consist of neutrals, colorful greys, or subdued primary-like colors (to give us a bit of pop once in awhile.) We created our 4270 Indian Yellow during a heatwave; then came thunderstorms and we responded with the 5920 Storm Green.

4. Where do you look for inspiration to create new colors? How long does it take to get a new color just right?

Nature is and has always been an important source of inspiration for our pastels, but so is technology (new pigments) and the interactions we have with artists at our shop, who indicate where our range may be lacking. We recently added a new source of inspiration: a watercolor color chart from the 1840s that we have hanging prominently in our workspace (a souvenir from our past.) It has inspired us to play with the idea of historic colors (Indian Yellow, Stil de Grain, Dragon's Blood) and we are now working on how to translate those hues into our pastels.

The more colors we make, the easier it is to judge how new colors should fit. When we remake a color from our historic range, we compare our tests to reference collections from the 1910s, 1930s, and 1980s to get a better feel for our options (and the overall spirit of the color), and ultimately go with our gut.

5. Is there a part of the process of making the pastels that might surprise the reader to know? Or a fun fact about the company?

There are a lot of people that might be surprised that our company is only comprised of two people (Isabelle and Margaret), which is why our shop hours are quite limited (we commute from the countryside to open the Paris boutique.)

6. What is the most popular color (or color family) today?

Our most intense colors are usually the most popular: we have a wide range of reds that are highly valued, luminous ultramarine blues, and the darkest black available in the pastel medium (our 91881 Extra Black). Our metallics have also developed a bit of a following, especially our 9441 Diamond White, 9181 Galaxy Black and our 9640 Scarab range.

*All images courtesy of La Maison du Pastel

Abigail Cook
Join Me! #lookifoundacolor

I want you guys to join me on my hunt for the latest colors and patterns. People ask me about the process of trend forecasting all of the time, so let’s start talking about it here. My eyes are constantly “on” every time I leave my apartment, which can be exciting and exhausting depending on the day. My brain is never turned off from seeing new colors, unexpected patterns, playful shapes, people matching their surroundings, etc. Every day it is inevitable that I will pass by something that catches my eye, leading me to think about something similar I might have seen a few days earlier or even from a trip months ago. It’s like connecting the dots of life…. Pee-wee Herman might have been onto something after all, teaching me a great life lesson and perhaps predicting my future as a kid in the 80’s. Who knows, stranger things have happened.

As a trend forecaster you’re looking for the synchronicities of life and when enough of these little nuggets of information randomly pop up, then you know a trend might be in the making… or maybe it’s already there. That all depends on the research I’ve done, what my previous forecasts were about and sometimes it boils down to having the intuition of just knowing. There are a lot of factors, which is what makes trend forecasting tricky and never ending. Oftentimes, if I don’t like a color combination or an idea feels strange, then I know it’s probably something I should pay attention to. These moments can be found when watching the news, going to an art exhibit, or even a mundane task like going to the post office - there is always something new to see and once I see “it” whatever that is at the moment, I get giddy, like I’ve found a pair of Dries Van Noten shoes on sale and in my size (you’ll learn over time my love for this designer) because that means something is waiting in the wings to be gathered and put out into the world.

I’ll explain more here in the coming months, but I wanted to start with an example that I have been seeing in art, fashion and nature. Starting simple with color, I have been obsessing over International Klein Blue. What exactly am I talking about? The history of International Klein Blue is quite fascinating and Paris based trend forecaster, Erin Burke and I have been seeing the color from Miami to Paris to Antwerp. I am continuing to see the heavily pigmented and saturated blue paired with pastel pinks, peaches and purples, making for an interesting color grouping. See below, the pics I have taken or the runway images that have started to create this color palette. Since it’s popping up in luxury design and on the runway, it means there will be a trickle down effect at some point.

Recently, some of you have privately shared photos of colors you have seen in your day to day lives because of one of my color posts and my intuition says we should start looking together even more and featuring our photos. So, if you want to try your eye at finding a version of International Klein Blue or it’s pairing with the pastels, as you’re out in the wild, tag your pics on Instagram or Facebook with #lookifoundacolor - I would love to start a color and pattern community and share what everyone finds! Join me on a trend safari and let’s see what we discover together.

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What Goes Around, Comes Around

In 2009 my denim colleague, Erin Burke and I designed what would be one of the first digitally printed denim shirts.  I had printed photos on 8"x10" cotton fabric pieces using an inkjet printer back in my college days and little did I know I was on to something.  This idea was much larger and done on an entire shirt, not tiny pieces sewn together.  We were initially told it couldn't be done and that it would be too expensive to mass produce.  And yet, we made it happen with the help of another colleague who believed it could be created. We placed a scenic photograph on the chambray shirt that I took in Medellin, Colombia.  We created it for a denim trend based around storytelling and daydreaming that we titled "Fable."  It was a hit amongst our clients and eventually the technology became more affordable.  Today, it's back as Calvin Klein leads the way.  As the saying goes...What goes around comes around. 

Abigail Cook
Gen Z Yellow

I'm still not sold on the name Gen Z Yellow, but it's a strong contender for the next Millennial Pink.  I'm not sure if we can really find another color as successful as that soft pink, gender neutral shade, but the cultural zeitgeist is on a treasure hunt to find it.  Waiting in the wings to be given the next color trophy is what the NY Times is calling Safety Orange, Melodramatic Purple, Neo Mint and of course Gen Z Yellow.  I'm leaning towards the purple shades, but for now here are my latest finds for the bright, egg yolky, sunshiney, prime color taken around the US...

Abigail Cook
What is this place?

My eye is constantly 'on' as I travel this world - looking for new color combinations, textures, and patterns (side note: I have a major love for found patterns so there will be many).  Over the course of 12 years I have been to over 50 countries and 200 cities to look for new trends in fashion and interiors as a trend forecaster.  My eye has been trained to look for the unexpected or the unusual and continues to keep changing to this day.  This blog is an additional place to show my perspective on how I see the world.  Follow along here or on Instagram (@abbeylcook) and check in often....I have a lot of inspiration to share.  Also, unless stated all photos have been taken by me.

Abigail Cook
Artificial Nature

There is something about pairing artificial colors against natural dusty shades that truly puts your imagination to work.  Before there was Instagram, there was Salvation Mountain outside of Palm Springs, CA.  If Candyland, Fraggle Rock and The Wizard of Oz all decorated a room together while smoking a joint, then Salvation Mountain would be the result.....a true artistic creation before our iPhones were there to take a photo and upload it to the world.  

I suggest going solo to Salvation Mountain if you're up for an adventure.  It's about an hour and half outside of Palm Springs near the deserted Salton Sea.  On your drive you will experience mirages and wonder if this is the end of life as the desert continues to connect itself into an infinite abyss.   Make sure to stop at the very-real-not-a-mirage-gas-station that is surrounded by other travelers whose mounting concerns of feeling lost can be felt in the parking lot.  Note: this is your last stop for gas or water. Keep driving and as your cell phone loses service and you think you've gone too far, signs for Salvation Mountain will rise out of the blurred khaki landscape.  And after you have driven through what seems like a little ghost town, it will be there waiting for you, somewhere on your left and filled with colorful surprises.  Be sure to wander through all of the little nooks and crannies as every dirt wall, floor, stone and branch has been layered with pastel colors and folk inspired designs. If you're up for volunteering you can even grab a paint can and help preserve the candy shell coating of this desert oasis.  Go, and let your imagination run wild. 

Abigail CookComment