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The Color Pink's Enduring Nature and Impact on Culture

The Color Pink’s Enduring Nature and Impact on Culture

Throughout history, the color pink has had its day in art, architecture, politics, and fashion. It’s a color that refuses to fall off-trend.

In 2016, a spat about color caused a stir in the art world when British artist Anish Kapoor announced that he had exclusive rights to use a particular shade of black. Described as the “blackest pigment of black paint ever developed,” Vantablack was produced by the British company Surrey NanoSystems, and originally intended for scientific and military use.

When Kapoor claimed the color as his—and only his—for his artistic work, many saw red. Fellow Brit artist Stuart Semple was so annoyed by Kapoor’s gesture that he made a pigment called PINK, which he tagged the “pinkest pink” ever created. He sold the color for $5 (£3.99) a pot, with the disclaimer that anyone could purchase it, except Anish Kapoor. The quarrel went viral and PINK flew off his shelves.

Semple’s choice of “protest color” is just one example in a long list of how pink has been used throughout history to make a statement—in art, architecture, fashion, public campaigns, and political movements. From its most vibrant to its subtlest expression, it’s a color that rarely goes unnoticed.

Strengthening Ties

Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) is the main tourist attraction of Jaipur, and one of the most famous monuments of Rajput architecture. Image via YURY TARANIK.

In the days of the British Empire, when Prince Albert was touring India in 1876, the Maharaja of Jaipur was so keen to impress the consort that he ordered the entire city to be painted “terracotta pink,” a color associated locally with hospitality.

The aim was to create an atmosphere that he hoped would strengthen India’s ties with Britain. Prince Albert subsequently dubbed Jaipur the “Pink City,” a name that it retains today. The Maharaja’s wife was so enamored with her city’s new look that the ruler made it illegal to use any other color on new buildings. The law is still upheld in the historic center of Jaipur, and the entire city is painted pink to celebrate Diwali. 

Rosa Mexicano

As a bold national statement, pink was chosen in the 20th century by Mexican artist and designer Ramón Valdiosera to represent his native country. In the 1940s, he created fashions influenced by his research into the arts and crafts of Mexico, taking some of his pink-inflected designs to New York (in 1949) to present at a fashion show.

Image via Kobby Dagan and Lilia Perez.

His work caught the eye of global fashionistas and Ramón declared that he had created a new color—”Rosa Mexicano,” or Mexican Pink. From then on, the vivid shade, akin to the beautiful bougainvillea flowers ubiquitous in Mexico and South America, has been adopted as the country’s national color.

In fact, many shades of pink appear all over the country, in everyday culture and architecture, including the buildings of celebrated Mexican architects Luis Barragán and Ricardo Legorreta.

Pastel Paradise

Florida Hotel
Art Deco buildings and hotels on the historic ocean drive in South Beach Florida. Image via Richard Goldberg.

Over the border, in the US, another designer had a vision of how a paler iteration of pink, along with other pastel colors, could revitalize a crumbling neighborhood. Arriving in Miami (via New York) in the 1970s, Leonard Horowitz had studied architecture and worked as a window dresser for Bloomingdale’s. When he adopted South Beach as his new home, he felt compelled to help preserve the district’s run-down Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture.

Joining forces, in 1976, with Barbara Baer Capitman of the Miami Design Preservation League, Horowitz chose a new set of colors to revive the grubby, yet historic, buildings lining the South Beach area. In his “Pastel Paradise” palette, which he said was inspired by Miami’s beach, ocean, sunrises, and sunsets, pastel pink featured large. The restoration was a resounding success. And, in 1979, the city’s refreshed South Beach was the first urban 20th century district in the U.S. to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Shocking Pink

Pink Hair
Fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s “Shocking Pink” became popular in the early 20th century. Image via Indigo Photo Club.

In modern and contemporary fashion, pink has had a more turbulent time. Its perception as a feminine color (in the West) is relatively recent. Until the 20th century, the color was worn by both sexes, as in many other parts of the world. Its paler shades were especially popular in the aristocratic courts of 18th century Europe. This subtle pink had much to do with the textile technology of the time. Natural dyes were more susceptible to fading. And, as synthetic ones became prevalent in the 20th century, more intense, long-lasting colors could be achieved. 

Pink took on a whole new hue in the work of avant-garde fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, for example. In 1937, she produced a perfume called “Shocking,” whose bottle and packaging were created by the pioneering Argentinian-Italian artist Leonor Fini. The bottle was shaped like a nude female torso. And, for the box, Fini chose a bright pink—a color Schiaparelli was also using in her fashion designs. This intense shade soon took the name of the perfume and “Shocking Pink” was born.

Protest Pink

Image via Marat_Yakhin and splask.

Latter called “Hot Pink,” it stuck as a color used in the West to convey a defiant (and, especially for women), powerful attitude. Punk fashion often claimed bright pink as its own to make a counter-cultural statement.

Plus, the pink “Pussyhats” worn by thousands of women at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington DC, although dogged by strongly divided opinions, were intended as a symbol of protest and female solidarity against the Trump administration. 


Colorful Clothes
Pink is beginning to, once again, lose its gender-coding qualities. Image via AS photostudio.

The gender-coding of pink is, for the most part, a largely Western convention. In Japan, India, and Africa, for example, the color has been used in men’s fashion for centuries. In the West in the 20th century, Black culture and a few high-profile male figures have also celebrated the color with no hint of irony.

American boxer Sugar Ray Robinson famously drove a pink Cadillac, which may have inspired Elvis to drive one too. Like Sugar Ray, the singer also frequently wore pink, as many contemporary American rappers such as Cam’ron do today. 

Millennial Pink

Much like vinyl records, Millennials took back the pink! Image via David Prado Perucha.

Seemingly beyond typecasting, the newly defined noughties shade “Millennial Pink” has been variously described as cool, androgynous, and “pink without prettiness.” It’s been worn by men and women, and used across the design world.

Perhaps pink has come full circle…until a new shade hits the headlines and causes a cultural kerfuffle. Pink, it seems, never stays neutral for long.

Color inspiration is vast! Dive into these:

Cover image via Indigo Photo Club.

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