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While the World’s Pink Obsession Continues, the Roses of Saudi Arabian City Taif Bring a Sustainable Way To Wear the Hue

Vogue Arabia, November 2019. Photo: Elizaveta Porodina

The history of pink: The first pigment

Nature is filled with examples of pink: flamingos, Himalayan salt, and conch shells come to mind. But in 2018, a multinational team of researchers discovered vibrant pink pigments in ancient marine sediments more than a billion years old in Mauritania, West Africa, confirming that ‘bright pink’ is the world’s oldest color. In fact, the first recorded use of the word ‘pink’ was in 1566. The word was used to name the flower Dianthus plumarius. It would be another century before the word would be used to describe the color of the flower.

In France, the word ‘rose’ became renowned for its opulence. Madame de Pompadour’s love of the color in the 18th century is rumored to have set the fashion of the day. As Empirical powers colonized the world, the demand for pink cosmetics grew as well. Upon discovering the potential in Brazil to create pink from the bark and red sap of Brazilwood trees, traders put slaves to work, cutting the trees down at such a rate that they were nearly lost forever. And by the mid-19th century, synthetic dyes were invented, paving the way for pink to become a color for the masses. 

In the 1930s, surrealist Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced the world to ‘Shocking Pink’, which pushed fashion forward in a technicolor post war America. In Hollywood, pink found a way to express the power of social status and beauty. Today, the image of Marilyn Monroe in a hot pink dress being served by a group of men in black tie has become iconic.

In the mid 20th century, pink became the color associated with baby girls and blue with baby boys. This practice gained popularity in the 1960s and was solidified in the 1980s, creating a strong economy for gender-based products. And then we come to 2023, the year of the Barbie movie. So strong was the world’s obsession with the doll’s trademark hue, that in an interview, director Greta Gerwig said, “The world ran out of pink.” The Barbie sets, which were all created by hand, exhausted the global supplies of the production’s partner Rosco—who “provided all the pink they could.”

Photo: Jaap Buitendijk

To date, Barbie has surpassed $1 billion in worldwide box office. Axios reported a 1,000% increase in online searches for “Barbiecore aesthetic” in the twelve months leading up to the movie’s release. After the overwhelming success and popularity of the movie, Mattel has already announced a sequel is being planned.

So, what does this mean for the future of pink?

A Unique Opportunity For Taif

Manufacturers of synthetic pigments are pressed to meet growing consumer demand. The market is ripe for competition. While synthetics dominate the market, consumers in the future will be looking for more natural, eco-friendly options. The city of Taif in Saudi Arabia is known for the singular quality of its roses, which are cultivated in a perfect mountainous climate, using expert agricultural and irrigation methods passed down for centuries. Products extracted from Taif roses are trusted the world over.

Photo: Laura Bosetti Tonatto

Devising natural and eco-friendly technology for the production of pink dyes and pigments from the petals of the Taif Rose could position the city in the global marketplace. Pantone’s 2023 color of the year is “Viva Magenta” — an empowering color that encourages self expression without restraint. This messaging was branded before the release of the Barbie movie, in the midst of its growing anticipation, online searches, and the rise of the now trending #Barbiecore aesthetic. Although “Barbiecore Pink” was not selected as color of the year, Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute acknowledged the “impactful statement” of the color to USA Today, remarking that she and her staff simply decided Viva Magenta was “the bigger picture play.”

Pink is being celebrated for its relationship to personal identity, possibility, and representation of the human experience, particularly in the west, where Barbie is reflecting an impactful message: that anyone can live the life they imagine for themselves.

This messaging applies beautifully to the city of Taif, with its long history of rose cultivation. Fun fact: its annual Rose Festival brings people from around the world to witness and sense the fragrance and alluring tones of the roses that grow there. Such a robust history of cultivation and trade is a resource which can be harnessed, together with the efforts of Vision 2030, to generate sustainable and eco-friendly measures to develop and promote the socioeconomic advantage of the city, the region and the Kingdom.

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