Pink isn’t what it used to be
Une exposition pour voir la vie en rose.
Pink is the new black – tel aurait pu être le titre de l’exposition organisée par le musée new-yorkais de la Fashion Institute of Technology. L’exposition Pink, visible jusqu’en janvier prochain, revient sur l’histoire de cette couleur longtemps décriée pour la réhabiliter dans toute sa complexité. Remis au goût du jour par de grandes stars internationales, le rose n’est plus seulement associé aux poupées Barbie, loin de là...
Pink packs a punch. The once playful tint of fragile ballerinas, Bubble Yum and Malibu Barbie has flexed some muscle of late, taking on overtones of sociopolitical protest, transgression and unalloyed eroticism. That message emerges with unexpected force at the Fashion Institute of Technology in a museum exhibition that explores variations of a color that has ping-ponged across the centuries, varying in tone from demure to baldly subversive, from classy to trashy and back.
2. Pink is a color in transition — pretty, and pretty unsettling — in a show that opened in September. Its lingering kitsch factor has clouded its impact for sure. “That’s one reason people think it’s not serious,” said Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum at FIT. Steele, on the other hand, would emphatically urge you to rethink pink.
3. “Really, it’s society that makes color, that decides what colors are going to mean,” she said, a point reinforced throughout the exhibition. A multidimensional hue with widely varying connotations, it is no longer, Steele insisted, “just girlie dumb pink but androgynous, cool hip protesting pink, an expression of all kinds of more complicated ideas.”
4. Pink’s transgressive impact, though, has been long in the making. In Western culture the color, in near-magenta and faint, powdery variations, was embraced by the nobility, its popularity enhanced in the late 14th century when new dyes sourced from India and Sumatra made for richer pinks. In the mid1700s, Madame de Pompadour rendered a more confectionary pink the height of fashion: In the portraits of François Boucher, she models a succession of sassily beribboned
shell-pink gowns and negligees. Pink during that period was intended for both sexes.
COLOUR FOR WOMEN
5. But by the mid-19th century, men had largely ceded pink to their sisters and wives, any of whom might have worn the coy mid1800s dress showcased at FIT, a pink silk taffeta gown, its multiple tiers bordered in an effusion of ruffles. Pink, as Steele writes, was perceived in those days as a pretty color expressive of delicacy and playful high spirits. But pink also suggested a second skin. A lingerie tint with louche undertones, it was celebrated by Théophile Gautier in his 1850 poem “To a Pink Dress.”
6. Times change and, with them, pink’s profile. By the late 19th century, pink was as common as ragweed. The introduction of aniline dyes that produced ultrabright, occasionally garish variations diminished the color’s prestige and rendered it vulgar, a tint flaunted in the novels of Emile Zola by shop girls and prostitutes.
7. By the 1960s, pink had taken on a dual personality. It was sophisticated enough for Jackie Kennedy, who received the French minister André Malraux at the White House wearing a bonbon pink evening dress. And it was sexy enough for Marilyn Monroe, who gave pink a racy spin encased in a closefitting diamond studded pink evening dress in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Pink went punk in the 1980s, a particularly garish shade known as Ultrapink enlivening the album covers of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols.
8. A decade later, the color asserted itself on a global scale as the fashion insignia of self-proclaimed outliers: Madonna embraced pink’s bordello associations, performing in 1990 in a soft pink cone-cupped bustier by Jean Paul Gaultier. Pink became ubiquitous in Japanese girl culture. The cultish color was taken up by American club crawlers, the emblem of cybergoths and ravers. More recently, it was appropriated by hip-hop culture.
9. With the years and shifting emphasis, pink turned political, the infamous pink triangle of the Nazi era repurposed by gay rights activists as a symbol of protest. Pink was taken up by a new generation of feminists as an assertion of proud womanhood, a trend that reached a crescendo at the 2017 inauguration when women descended on Washington en masse, flaunting quaintly homespunlooking pussy hats. “In terms of its meaning new things, pink has acquired the charisma and complexity of black,” Steele said.
Inside the exhibition "Pink" at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Justin Bieber, April 2018. Marilyn Monroe in a publicity shot for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Inside the exhibition "Pink" at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Lady Gaga at the premiere of the film at the Venice Film Festival, August 2018.(SIPA)