The Colour File interview: Penny Bennett

Penny Bennett worked in television before returning to her first love, fashion, to become an image consultant. Now, Penny has hundreds of clients who she helps to achieve a confident, stylish and unique personal image, whether they’re high-powered executives, mums returning to work or newly singletons. She also presents inspirational workshops and seminars (which is where The Colour File first encountered her), has worked with brands including Top Shop and River Island and has been described in Grazia magazine as having a ‘faultless eye’ when it comes to fashion. A self-confessed lover of colour, Penny tells The Colour File just how important it is to her…

Martha: Can you describe your first colour memory?
Penny: When I grew up there was a trend for dressing siblings in the same outfit. My mum would dress my elder sister in the pink dress but would dress me in the blue version. This devastated me as, conforming to stereotype; I loved pink as a little girl. If I was lucky I got a yellow dress but the pink was always reserved for my sister.

Penny in the blue dress…

Martha: Do you have a favourite colour and has this changed over the years?
This is so hard to answer!! I’m very thoughtful about colour and really depends how I feel to what colours I gravitate towards. At the time of writing I would say Dahlia Yellow, Lobster red, midnight green and Vermeer blue.

Martha: What is your favourite colourful object/objects and why?
I’m obsessed with Eva Sonaike’s use of colour, very much influenced by her African heritage. These cushions on my buttoned sofa were the starting pint for the colour scheme for all the living spaces in my house. I love that you can mix them all together and the hues of the different colours work together so seamlessly and beautifully.

Penny’s Eva Sonaike cushions
Delicious fabric samples by Eva Sonaike

Martha: How does colour make you feel? Do you use it in your work or personal life to influence your moods or those of your clients?
Colour evokes emotion and I let how I’m feeling dictate what colour or combination of colours I choose to wear. I don’t wear black as I finding it draining both emotionally and physically but I feel black has a grounding force so I often wear black shoes with my outfits.
I discuss the emotive effects of colour extensively with my clients. We select colours for their wardrobe that they love and are ultra flattering. Colour is an intense communicative force and I want my clients to feel strong, confident and feminine everyday so colour is the strating point for all their outfits.
I use colour considerately in interiors too. My office at home is painted in The Paint & Paper Library‘s Squid Ink – such a great name! It’s the perfect combination of dark blue, deep green and grey. It’s statement enough with being interrupting when I’m working.

Martha: Do you have a colour you could happily do without? For example, although I wouldn’t want the world to be without them, I’m not that keen on ‘autumn’ colours as a palate, probably from being dressed in them so much in the 1970s!
Penny: I truly love all colours, for me it’s more about the hue. If I HAD to choose I would say brown… although I love it in nature and in interiors.

Martha: What does colour mean to you in your day-to-day life? 
Penny: I work in colour everyday – colour is everything! It starts with getting myself and my children dressed, to the subway tiles I see on the tube, to selecting the most flattering and functional colours for my client’s wardrobes to what colours I want on my dinner plate at night. I’m responding emotionally every day to the colours that surround me – feeling inspired, energized, balanced, brave or restful.

Martha: Do you think there are rules about colour? Or are rules made to be broken? 
Penny: If you are a guest at a wedding, don’t wear white (unless of course that is the dress code…yes, one of my clients attended a wedding where the guests had to wear white!). But I really can’t think of a rule that is applicable for this post modern world we live in. Some of my clients find this lack of rules challenging but by exposing them to new ways of thinking about colour and introducing the idea of texture, they realize the joy of experimentation. I dressed one of my clients in a dark navy cotton dress with a forest green leather belt and her notions of “blue and green should never be seen’ were turned on their head.
Some traditional institutions have dress codes that limit colour choices so you compromise by adjusting the intensity of a colour. There is always a way around it!

Martha: Do you have a colour story or anecdote? 
Penny: When we originally moved into our house, I repainted the whole house and choose a pink for our room called Pink Ground from Farrow and Ball. I loved the colour combination of the pink walls, with the cream rug, tan leather chair and brown wooden bed. I think pink is sensual, gentle, calming and nuturing. My husband trusts me implicitly with all matters of colour and interiors but after 6 months he couldn’t get used to it. It reminded him too much of his granny’s faded pink bathroom suite and it made him feel emasculated. That is the power of colour! It is so subjective and influenced by so many factors.
When I first start working with a client I really like to get to the heart of how they want to look and the subjectivity of colour plays a huge part in this. The colours they wear communicate whom they are and how they feel they fit into the world around them. It is endlessly fascinating to me.

Martha: Have you ever got emotional about colour? Personally, I’ve cried several times over colour!
Penny: Everytime I work with a client I get emotional about colour. There is nothing more exhilarating than putting them in a colour that flatters their skin tone, accentuates their features and they instantly respond to. There have been so many goose bump moments when I’m dressing my clients and for them it is often life changing. I also get really emotional over my daughters artwork. She chooses the most unexpected and intoxicating colour combinations. I love that she doesn’t think about what colours should be used for what or what colours should be paired together – there are no filters, it is totally instinctive and joyful.

Martha: If a colour was created in your honour, what colour would it be and what would it be called?
Penny: I’m greedy when it come to colour so can I have two? I’m really into green at the moment so my green would be called ‘weeping cedar’ – it would be a blue green mixed with light grey to make it shadowy. And I would have to have a Penelope Pink – slightly lighter and more muted than a conch pink.

Martha: If you could give people advice about using colour, what would it be?
Penny: Coming from a fashion standpoint, I would say don’t be so hesitant about colour combining. People are so afraid of getting it ‘wrong’! Choose colours that make your heart sing whether that be a restrictive more monochromatic colour palette or colourful and playful. Understanding your colouring will take the guess work out of colour choices and gives you the confidence to wear colour combinations successfully. It’s about being aware of what works and what doesn’t and opening your mind to new possibilities.

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