Color me spiritual

It\'s another bright sunny day in Encino, but Deborah Gordon manages to almost outshine the sun. In her hot pink and purple ensemble -- from ankle-length skirt to long-sleeved blouse topped by a fuchsia hat -- this rebbetzin wasn\'t kidding when she said she was all about colors.
October 5, 2007

It’s another bright sunny day in Encino, but Deborah Gordon manages to almost outshine the sun. In her hot pink and purple ensemble — from ankle-length skirt to long-sleeved blouse topped by a fuchsia hat — this rebbetzin wasn’t kidding when she said she was all about colors.

Color therapy, if you will.

In this enlightened new age, therapy has expanded beyond Freud’s original “talking therapy.” Way beyond. Aside from what is now called “traditional” therapy (psychotherapy, behavioral, cognitive, gestalt, etc.), the healing of the soul has been pursued through other senses and arts: music therapy, art therapy, dance therapy, movement therapy — you name it. There’s even something called chromotherapy, or color therapy. Chromotherapy uses color to balance a person’s physical, emotional, spiritual or mental energies. On one end of the spectrum, it is used by alternative-health practitioners, and on the other by fashion consultants who help people find the colors that best suit them. Gordon — as the wife of Chabad of the Valley’s executive director Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon, and as a color analyst — does a little of both.

“I’m not just a rebbetzin, and I’m not just a color designer, but I decided to incorporate my Chabad work into the color work.”

For example, she has designed Chabad centers around the world, often via the Internet, using Web cams and photographs to case the joints. And as the president of the mikvah (ritual bath) in Tarzana, she has brides coming in to see her all the time.

“Let’s talk about my trousseau and my colors,” they say.

“First we’ll talk about Shabbos and kosher and family purity,” Gordon replies, “and then we’ll talk about colors.” Talking about colors is a complex process, for which her private clients — actors, writers, members of her community and others — pay $450 for a one-and-a-half hour consultation through her business, Flying Colors.

The name for the business came long before Gordon knew it would be a business. When she was 19, she and her new husband went to the Lubavitcher rebbe for a blessing. It was the early 1970s, a very idealistic time and “we knew we wanted to go out on shlichut and be part of his army,” she said about being an Chabad emissary, the tradition of sending couples to cities around the world to build Chabad centers and bring people closer to Judaism. Gordon says she asked the rebbe all sorts of questions — about her life, herself, her ambitions — and he said, “Whatever you do, you will pass with flying colors.”

For followers of the rebbe, who believe he never wasted a word, that was a unique sentence — although his forecast wouldn’t come to fruition for many years.

Gordon has been interested in color and design since she was young. Her father was a foreman for a paint company that specialized in mixing and matching for houses.

“It wasn’t like Home Depot, where they do it for you,” she said. She’d sit on his knee and tell him, “you have to add more pink” or “you have to add more brown.”

Gordon spent 10 years studying design and color with Suzanne Caygill, the originator of color design theory. Back in 1942, Caygill, a milliner and fashion designer, had an epiphany: that a person carries information about their personality and style in their skin, hair and eyes. Caygill developed a theory of personality and style based on the four seasons, creating 64 personality types. In 1980 Caygill wrote “Color: The Essence of You.” But the book stops at the physical.

Before Caygill died in 1994, she told Gordon that what she hadn’t brought to the work was spirituality.

“It was like a charge,” Gordon said. “I had to really step into big shoes.”

Gordon was licensed by Color Design International in 1993, and the next year she started Flying Colors, which incorporates design, analysis, healing, therapy and spirituality. And for the last 15 years Gordon has been studying what she calls “color kabbalah,” which correlates the kabbalistic spheres to color.

“God in his magnificence, when he created the world,” she said, put different energies into different seasons. “The energies that come into each season come into to play,” Gordon said. “When God’s energy was coming into the world, it would have been too much, so there are diffusions of this energy — different emotional and intellectual capabilities,” that can be understood through Chasidut (Chasidic philosophy), kabbalah and color. Just as a cardiologist may check a person’s blood pressure and heartbeat, color analysts take a look at the eyes, skin tone and hair color.

“As I’m doing this, I start understanding who you are. It’s spiritual and emotional,” she said.

Gordon’s work goes deeper than traditional color analysis, such as the work done by companies like Color Me Beautiful, which builds palates for people based on the four seasons.

Gordon shows a client dozens of swatch books, checking her client’s reaction to various colors. She starts building a palate for different occasions: work situations, personal situations, first dates, job interviews, etc.

For Rebbetzin Olivia Schwartz, who helps runs the Chai Center and hosts dozens of people in their home each week with her husband Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” Schwartz, Gordon designed an interior of warm tones, deep peaches and browns.

“There’s nothing more beautiful then opening up your home on Shabbos and the colors of the walls are bouncing off of you,” Schwartz said. “There’s also nothing like hearing about yourself from a perfect stranger, especially when that stranger knows things about you that you yourself don’t know.”

And when a perfect stranger tells you something about yourself that you might have always suspected but never heard spoken aloud, it can be jarring — but affirming.

“If I see a person with a green eye with brown around it, I see that, as a child, they need answers,” Gordon said, they wouldn’t be happy in a religious setting with pat explanations.

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