It is confusing, and it's made even more confusing by the fact that the same trait can be called different things in different breeds.
Let's start with phantom. It's the same black and tan pattern that you'd find on a Doberman or a Rottweiler. The main body is black, while parts of the legs, part of the muzzle, the eyebrows, and a butterfly shaped patch across the chest are red. The two-tone look is present at birth or soon after and remains throughout the dog's life.
Fading, as I think of it, is essentially a greying gene. The dog starts out black. One copy of the gene causes the dog to lighten to a dark grey over the course of several years. Two copies of the gene will cause the dog to change quicker and end up lighter, more of a silvery grey. Different parts of the dog may turn grey earlier than other parts, and the dog may look more brown than grey at certain stages. My boy Galen has mouse grey patches on his muzzle right now and some silver streaks in his ear hair. Otherwise the rest of the dog is still black. I expect him to end up a gunmetal grey. To confuse things, these colors are called blue and silver in poodles. It is not the same color or gene as the blue in pitbulls or dobermans. I believe it is the same gene found in Kerry Blue Terriers.
When the dog starts out brown instead of black, the greying/fading gene will instead change the dog to a shade of pale brown, like adding milk to coffee. Twyla's girl Beatrice is a beautiful example of a dog that has lightened from brown to a color that reminds me of smoke at sunrise.
For a bit of genetic fun, some modifiers can sneak in and alter the basic colors. My boy Pogo should have been a black and tan phantom. His full brother Snarky should have been a brown and tan phantom. However, both dogs got a modifier that turned their red/tan patches to cream. Pogo was therefore a black and cream phantom, while Snarky was brown and cream. They both also inherited a spotting gene that gave them big white parti spots.
Colors and fading in poodle are indeed very fascinating Initially, I thought my puppy was a phantom (brown, with her muzzle, paws and eyebrows cream). However, in only one week, she has faded quite a bit and her head is turning toward a ginger color. Moreover, the coat near her skin is cream, only the tip of her coat is brown. I can't wait to see how she will turn out