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January 20, 2010

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Picking your best colors to light up your face

ON a drab, gray Shanghai winter's day, Australian color consultant Kylie Bartnicki is determined to bring out her client's inner glow.

Bartnicki is holding court with a group of Belgian women in Pudong, who are swapping opinions on what colors look good on each other.

Like choosing what shade of paint would look best in a room, the women are using color books and different materials to find out which colors best suit them.

Bartnicki discovered the world of color theory while living in Germany and has spent more than four years studying how choosing the right color can make all the difference in a vital first impression.

"When we wear any color around our face, the light is reflected up onto our face. When we wear a good color, the light makes our skin, hair and eyes shine and we look happy and alert," Bartnicki says.

"When you wear the wrong color, it casts a shadow across your face and your eyes and skin can look gray, yellow or generally sallow," she adds.

Bartnicki went on to study style coaching and uses a range of different color theories developed by artists at the turn of the 20th century to provide advice to clients.

Describing style coaching as both image consulting and life coaching, Bartnicki says she is interested in how colors affect people's confidence and help form people's first impressions.

Some of this color analysis includes breaking colors into warm and cool, bright and soft, and light and dark color spectrums.

Bartnicki also uses a common color theory for stylists that breaks people down into different seasons related to their skin, eye and hair coloring.

Winter and summer are so-called "cool tones" and autumn and spring are "warm colorings."

An indication that someone has "cool coloring" might include gray-blue eyes, pinkish or bluish skin tones and ash tones in their hair.

Clues that someone might have "warm colorings" include red or golden hair, brown eyes and gold or yellow undertones to the skin.

"Winters" and "summers" generally wear colors with blue undertones but "summers" are better suited to softer colors with less contrast.

"Autumns" and "springs" are better suited to colors with a yellow palettes or undertones.

Chinese women typically are an "autumn season" if they have darker, peachy skin tones or a "winter" if they have paler skin tones. Bartnicki says that Chinese women who have darker eyes and dark hair will look best in deep, rich colors such as purple, red and a deep green.

Deep, rich berry colors are also good while light pastel pinks and blues should be avoided because they tend to wash out Chinese skin tones.

Back at the group session, the Belgian women have each been assigned their seasonal color and are busy working out which colors in their particular seasonal spectrum best suit them.

After the class they leave with small color booklets that they can use to buy clothes in the shade of their best colors.

The world of fashion and styling is a long way from the white-coated world of a science laboratory where Bartnicki first started her career.

A trained medical scientist, Bartnicki traces back her interest in colors to when she went for her first job interview at age 18.

"My mother bought me a new red top to wear to my interview and she said, 'Wear this, it will be lucky'," Bartnicki recalls. "I wore it, had a great interview and got the job. Ever since then I started thinking about how powerful color is, how it makes us look and how it makes us feel."

Born in Tasmania, she lived in Burnie before the family moved to Launceston in that state.

At age 23, Bartnicki took a post at a Saudi Arabian hospital, working in the laboratory testing blood samples from the nearby American and English air bases. "I was the youngest Western woman at the hospital, it was the adventure of a lifetime," Bartnicki says.

She later worked in medical science in Dubai and Brisbane.

Her first trip to China came in 2005 when Bartnicki took up a 12-month post teaching English in Baise City in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Bartnicki was one of the only a few foreigners in town and it was in this unlikely setting that she met her husband Carsten.

The tall blond German engineer stood out at the local bus stop and the pair struck up a conversation that led to an international courtship.

"He was in China on a short-term contract so we met up for our first date in Singapore, he came to Australia for a holiday, I went to Germany for two months and after coming back to Australia we got married," she says.

After a brief stint in Italy, the couple moved to China eight months ago when Carsten took up a Shanghai post with Swedish engineering firm Sandvik.

Since arriving in Shanghai, Bartnicki has set up Glow Colour & Style that offers a color analysis and styling advice.

Bartnicki says the fun, simple consultancies have been conducted for clients as young as five years old and as old as 90.

She says that clients are typically in between their 30s and 50s and want some fresh ideas on developing their own personal style.

Sessions usually last one and a half to two hours and cost 600 yuan (US$89). Bartnicki also runs fabric market tours, group workshops and so-called "wardrobe weedings" where she will weed out and consolidate a client's wardrobe down to the items best suited to their tonal characteristics.

Anyone interested can contact Kylie Bartnicki at or call 6193-5736. Kylie Bartnicki

Nationality: Australian

Age: 40

Profession: Color and style consultant


Self-description:Open, honest, self-motivated.

Favorite place:South Bund Soft-Spinning Fabric Market.

Strangest sight:

The total eclipse, it was unbelievable.

Worst experience:

Being stuck in traffic on a Friday afternoon.

Motto for life:

Live, love, laugh.

How to improve Shanghai:More clear blue skies, larger dress sizes for us curvy Western women.

Advice to newcomers:

Take your time, enjoy and if all else fails, breathe.


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