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Why Pink Will Always Be the Color That Shocks, Entices, and Enthralls

From a history of rich meaning and traditions, pink still rises as the color to shock, entice, and enthrall.

Photographed by Julien Vallon

Ursula von der Leyen’s mood was about as magenta pink as her blazer when she was denied a proper seat during a diplomatic visit to Turkey in April. The first woman to head the European Commission and one of the most powerful in the world was relegated to a couch as her colleague Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey settled into two chairs. Afterward, standing tall before the European Parliament, Von der Leyen warned that sexism endures at all levels. The German politician even speculated if appearing in less feminine attire would have granted her the treatment she deserved that day. “Would this have happened if I had worn a suit and a tie?” she asked.

Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

Historically, pink has proven to be one of the most emotionally evocative and controversial colors of all the spectrum. It’s most dazzling iteration, shocking pink, was popularized by the late Italian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, who made the intense magenta her signature color in 1937, ensuring her subsequent designs stood out against the austere palettes of the battle-weary Forties. Decades later, further socio-political movements in the west would embrace the color again, when knitted pink hats became a symbol of the 2017 Women’s March, a worldwide protest movement against US President Donald Trump.

Pink is said to have been worn in ancient India and imperial China, as well as the upper echelons of 18th century European society, where it was a symbol of social status, since the materials used to dye such lavish garments were imported from expensive expeditions to central Asia and South America. In art, it symbolized youth and romance. Madame de Pompadour, the chief mistress of Louis XV of France, was so enamored with the color, French porcelain manufacturer Sèvres created a shade specifically for her, called Rose Pompadour, in 1757. Yet for centuries, the color was associated with masculinity, with boys being dressed in pink and girls in blue (with babies traditionally wearing white and the military mostly wearing red, pink was seen as appropriate for boys). This connection only started swapping in the 1940s, with the final transition to pink as a feminine color coming in the 1950s, when US first lady Mamie Eisenhower wore a pink gown as her inaugural dress, thereby cementing the color as one for “ladies.”

Photo: Courtesy of Stella McCartney

Bright pink soon found its way to the big screen, too. Marilyn Monroe wore shocking pink to scintillating effect in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Dressed in a raspberry William Travilla silk strapless gown and matching opera gloves, Monroe swatted away suitors with her fan while singing “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” In the 1957 Audrey Hepburn movie Funny Face, the magazine editor-in- chief character Maggie Prescott sings an ode to the color, exclaiming, “If she’s gotta think, think pink!” And who can forget the pink satin jackets donned by the Pink Ladies in the 1978 film Grease? The color made it off-screen, too, with many stars choosing shades of pink for some of their biggest moments. A tearful Gwyneth Paltrow wore a powder pink Ralph Lauren gown when she accepted her best actress Oscar in 1999; Rihanna chose a voluminous Giambattista Valli dress for the 2015 Grammy Awards; Lady Gaga displayed her unbridled sense of female emancipation on the 2019 Met Gala red carpet in a billowing shocking pink Brandon Maxwell dress.

Marilyn Monroe. Photo: Alamy

Designers from Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel to Schiaparelli’s most recent successor, Daniel Roseberry, demonstrate that pink is a symbol of feminine power. For his SS21 couture presentation, Roseberry borrowed a page from the maison’s surrealist past, unfurling a glossy black molded bustier with chiseled abs, enveloped in a signature shocking pink bow. “The pink, in particular, I find to be a very modern code of the house,” reflects the artistic director.

Lady Gaga. Photo: Getty

Regional couture designers Zuhair Murad, Nicolas Jebran, Azzi & Osta, and Rabih Kayrouz are also helping propel pink through the millennium. Known for their fashion-forward couture, George Azzi and Assaad Osta opted for a dessert motif for their SS21 collection of floor-sweeping evening looks, including luxuriant jumpers fastened with glamorous swathes of iridescent melon satin. “We don’t see pink as a color for girls. With its endless shades, pink can be perfect for decoration, interiors, menswear… Anything, really. For women, it signifies blush powders, vibrant skin, attractiveness… It represents the softer or wilder side of a man or woman,” Azzi & Osta explains. Meanwhile, Chanel offered bubblegum pink tweed suits styled over magenta swimsuits for Resort 2021; Loewe featured the rosy hue as a backdrop for sunflower prints for SS21; Gucci SS21 offered electric pink as potential officewear in the form of a shirt and pants; and Stella McCartney broke out the potent hue across a one- sleeved dress with capuche for its SS21 presentation.

Many of the colors on the runway are conceived by textile mills like Taroni SpA near Italy’s palazzo- studded Lake Como. Its CEO and creative director, Maximilian Canepa, a 12th generation textile maker, is the keeper of more than 1000 color recipes influenced by everything from shiny salmon skins to corals; from camellias plucked from the family garden to the vintage cars. “If you take a color from something valuable or so rare in nature and from something powerful and rich, it resonates with creatives,” remarks Canepa.

Photo: Courtesy of Zuhair Murad

Pink does have its naysayers, though, especially among people rejecting the rigid gender-conformity still associated with it. While some parents choose not to buy their daughters any rose-colored clothing, others have spoken about being “pink shamed” for dressing them in pink instead of more gender-neutral colors. Perhaps pink will always carry the ability to shock. Roseberry considers that the prowess the color stands for has become even stronger over time. It is a hue ever related to power, creativity, and individuality – fit for the women of today.

Read Next: Burberry Makes History with this Groundbreaking Pledge

Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

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