“I believe in pink,” says diva Audrey Hepburn in one of her most famous quotes. But what does it mean to believe in pink? Obviously, we are not talking about a color itself, nor about its essence or mere aesthetics, but rather about the concept of pink. In fact, all colors are not simply colors. Each hue embodies communicative, emotional and semantic power. But out of all of them, pink is the most controversial and divisive. With a troubled history, a carrier of ideologies and dissent. Capable of embarrassment and capable of enhancing sensuality. Condemned and loved. Delicate but bold. Childlike but also sensual.
As always, art, music and fashion are generators of trends and movements, carriers and disseminators of meanings that are imbued in popular culture. Never was any other color conveyed and exploited like pink. For centuries asexual, used by males and females in clothing, used in art as a delicate color and chosen by the greatest as a protagonist, see Pablo Picasso in his “pink period.” But then, in the last century, there was a reversal that led pink to become representative of the female gender and, consequently, to be a color implicitly “forbidden” to the male gender.
Consumerism, and particularly marketing strategies, led to a chromatic divisionism: for females pink, for males blue. Of all events, it was the launch of the Barbie doll (in the late 1950s) that even more assertively established this assignment with its pantone pink 219. The famous blonde-haired doll became a female role model from childhood, still capable of influencing commercial choices today. Just think of the new Barbie movie directed by Greta Gerwig that was able to cause a worldwide shortage of the pink paint.
A few years before the launch of Barbie, it was thanks to fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli and the invention of chemical dyes that shocking pink became established, brighter and bolder than the “flesh” pink used until then. From Barbie onward, pink ran rampant. Women took possession of it, until it became the symbolic color of feminist demonstrations. Since the end of the 20th century, however, reaching to the present day, there has been an attempt to untie pink from the female gender. Pink thus continues its troubled history, heading toward a more asexual path. Accomplice number one is fashion, which is increasingly using it as a no-gender color. The biggest example is Valentino with its Pink PP Collection for women and men Fall Winter 2022-23. “You don’t see genders, but the authenticity of people,” says creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli.
Architecture also goes crazy for pink, contributing to a semantic transposition of the color. One example is archistar Ricardo Bofill’s Muralla Roja (1973), famous for being part of the set of The Hunger Games. Conceived to be a residential building with a sea view and located in Alicante, the Muralla Roja has a clear Arab inspiration and seems to have come out of the surrealist world. Contrary to this, however, pink continues to be used in a feminine perspective and, at times, almost as a desire for feminist affirmation. One example is architect and designer India Mahdavi, who in 2014 created the Hollywood pink interiors of the London restaurant Sketch. “My first desire was to paint everything pink,” says Mahdavi, “In this masculine atmosphere, I chose to assert myself in this cubic room, introducing my vision: that of color and kindness.“
In the field of art, we report two examples. One more recent while the other from a few decades ago. In the early 2000s it was Franz West himself who used pink frequently in his paper mache sculptures and, moreover, in unusual contexts, considering pink as a “scream to nature.” For example, in the work “Les Pommes d’Adam” he juxtaposes pink with an entirely masculine element such as the Adam’s apple, which is also often mistaken for a phallus, creating ambiguous associations in the minds of viewers. More recently, however, one of the contemporary artists who has most distinguished himself in terms of creativity and use of this color is Giacomo Cossio with his plants entirely covered in pink paint.
Cossio conceives of colors in a totally agender way, without assigning a gender to pink or even light blue, which he often uses. As much as he chooses colors that can contrast with the natural green of the plants, which will re-emerge as they grow. “Mine is more of an American pop fascination, I think by now the concept of associating a color with a gender is a stereotype that needs to be overcome,” he tells us.
The discourse of pink would need further exploration; perhaps its dark side, related to death and psychotropic drugs, would also be worth analyzing. But for now we will stop here, leaving you in the Instagram pink world, which undoubtedly helps to bring pink toward a unisex soul and free of all divisions.