Flamingo fashions are back in the pink
Designers and retailers join in fun to boost ’50s fad
FASHION is fickle. What’s in is soon out and, then, miraculously, back in again. There’s no better proof of that than the flamingo – once a tacky lawn ornament, it’s been resurrected as the design element of the moment.
In just over two years, flamingos have soared from the catwalks of Milan to the wardrobes and walls of urban hipsters to the aisles of international department stores. Flamingos adorn everything from $1 495 (R20 000) Givenchy dresses to $40 shower curtains. Google searchs for “flamingo” hit an all-time high in May.
“Flamingos are the kale of style right now,” says Vicki Psarias, founder of the British lifestyle blog Honest Mum.
The flamingo’s journey from kitsch to cool illustrates how consumer trends emerge. Flamingos nestled in the happy middle of a Venn diagram of three hot trends: they’re pink, they’re tropical and they happen to be birds. Once there, they quickly grew, with help from a steady diet of celebrity Instagram posts, Pinterest pages and style blogs.
“The ability of social networks to launch, broadcast and instantly reinforce the credibility of a trend has accelerated the old process of trend development by an almost incalculable factor,” says futurist Ryan Mathews. “The path is the same but the ride is a whole lot faster and bumpier.”
The flamingo’s ride began in 1957, when a young graphic artist with the fitting name of Donald Featherstone created a plastic pink flamingo for Union Products, which Sears offered in a catalogue. Suburbanites snatched them up as lawn ornaments from Stockholm to Cape Town and they soon became “widely reviled as the dregs of bad taste”, as a New York Times story put it when Union Products closed in 2006.
The notoriety caught the attention of avant-garde director John Waters, whose 1972 breakout film Pink Flamingos boasted the tag line, “An exercise in poor taste”.
Flamingos were briefly a mascot of gay culture but largely petered out.
Then, in June 2014, a rebirth, thanks to American fashion designer Marc Jacobs, who put flamingos all over a Spring 2015 collection that included a black satin embroidered flamingo bomber jacket. Other labels, such as Bottega Veneta and Gucci, followed suit and when Prada unveiled a flamingo-themed fragrance in 2015, a spark was ignited.
Celebrities then applied rocket fuel. At Taylor Swift’s 2015 Fourth of July party, the pop star and her Instagram-friendly pals frolicked on inflatable flamingos.
Retailers jumped on the trend and flamingos featured on sheets, towels and kids’ bedroom accessories. Next came flamingo serviettes, string-up lights and water carafes.
In Britain, John Lewis department store stocked flamingo pool inflatables in April last year, which sold out in eight weeks. Inspired, John Lewis went full flamingo this year: gift wrap, beach towels, lights, wallpaper, glasses, notebooks, pencil cases, aprons and ties. And, of course, plastic garden ornaments.
Flamingo product sales have more than doubled and inflatable sales are up 700%. The only product launch that’s done as well in recent memory is Star Wars merchandise.
And it’s not just cheap trinkets – flamingo silk scarves cost $170 and a designer large tote bag is $379.
But, as Mathews says, “Trends can be dismantled at the same speed they are created.” Some say flamingoes have peaked and are already being replaced by the humble cactus, now trending on the web. Cactus boxers, anyone? – Washington Post
Don Featherstone, creator of the original plastic pink flamingo, surrounded by the plastic creatures at Union Products in the US.