Wednesday, November 29, 2023

From Barbie to Millennial Pink, the cultural phenomenon behind the color

This advice, sung in the 1957 movie musical Funny Face, was well heard: Just look at fashion and the media. The fascination with pink, each hue and shade has its own connotation, has shaped these cultural engines for generations and kicks off in full force as we enter the high season of “Barbie” season.

Color has been a crucial detail for film and television, from that scene in Funny Face to Elle Woods donning her iconic head-to-toe bright pink outfit in 2001’s Legally Blonde to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, where the pink tones in the wardrobe play a symbolic role in the last season. And now, with the premiere of the Greta Gerwig film, the Pink Barbie is inevitable.

Throughout history, designers, artists and brands have played with the emotions that color evokes, creating new meanings. From gender to class, these associations have been continually challenged, altered, and subverted, but as the definition of Rose changes, there is one constant: her cultural staying power.


Pink first came into vogue at the French court in the 18th century thanks to a new source of dye that gave fabrics a more vibrant and durable color, explained Valerie Steele, director of the museum at FIT and one of the authors of “Pink: The Story of a Punky Pretty.” , powerful color”.

Since then, pink’s prestige has come and gone; As pink dyes became more accessible to the working class, the color lost its association with wealth and prestige.

When it first became popular, it was worn by both men and women, but by the 1920s department stores in the United States were claiming that blue was for boys and pink was for girls.

“It was really completely random,” Steele said of the context.

A few generations later, until 2016, Pantone chose “rose quartz” as its color of the year: This muted antique rose is calming but also represents strength, said Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute. Pressman told The Associated Press that one of the reasons the color was chosen was because of increasing “gender blurring.” (The color was quickly embraced by fashion and interior designers, earning it the nickname “Millennial Pink.”)

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This symbiotic influence—pink provides structure and is reinforced by a cultural force—was evident the following year at the Women’s March in Washington, where protesters donned bright pink “kitten hats.”

“Pink has become the most controversial color in fashion in many ways, and fashion is always interested in controversy,” Steele said.

For British artist Stuart Semple, pink is the color of rebellion and occupation of space. Semple created the painting Pinkest Rose in 2016 in response to artist Anish Kapoor’s purchase and reservation of the artistic rights to the pigment Vantablack, believed to be the world’s blackest black.

Semple has made his painting, intended as the fluorescent apotheosis of color, available to the world at an affordable price.

“I thought it was wrong of me to keep this incredible color that I made. So I wanted it to be available to everyone,” Semple told the AP. “Apart from him (Kapoor), for obvious reasons.”

Semple chose pink because it was the “counterpart” to black and is political, vibrant, and “perfect for defying convention.”

Tanisha Ford, history professor at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, noted that male artists, particularly artists of color like Bad Bunny; Tyler, The Creator, and Jaden Smith sparked more complex conversations about masculinity by wearing pink.

Color is subversive, but it’s also used in very “ironic” ways, Ford said.

“People of color have been denied leisure and recreation,” Ford said. “So if you’re in college clothes or fancy yacht attire, you’re betting on reclaiming leisure time.”

There’s also a simple reason why people wear pink: it looks good.

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“It’s a very flattering color at its core,” says Barry Manuel, a fashion professor at New York University.


Pink has long been associated with the Barbie brand and even has its own Pantone color. But although Barbie first launched in 1959, Mattel didn’t start introducing predominantly pink packaging until the 1970s, said Kim Culmone, Mattel’s senior vice president and global head of fashion for Barbie and dolls.

Discussing the shades of pink associated with the brand, Culmone noted that there was something uplifting and playful about “Barbie Pink”.

“The most important thing is that it’s really a symbol of empowerment for us. Barbie is the original brand for girl empowerment,” said Culmone.

It’s no surprise that the first full-length trailer for the film looked rosy, portraying Barbie Land as a fun cotton candy wonderland that felt a little contrived. After the preview premiered, there were press reports claiming that the production team had bought so many cans of pink paint that the world supply had been exhausted.

Gerwig told the AP she wasn’t so sure, but confirmed the team bought all the cans of pink paint from a particular company. The director explained that it was important to use pink color for older film techniques to make the audience feel that Barbie Land was real.

“They are toys, and what are toys but things you can touch? That’s why it was important that the pink color made everything paintable,” said Gerwig.

The capitalization of the color

Semple had problems with the monopoly and the “press about running out of paint supplies”.

“Whether it’s true or not, it’s not very pretty,” he told the AP.

Semple explains that he’s dealing with what he calls “big color,” where corporations dominate usage. He named “Tiffany Blue,” the jewelry company’s trademark color.

In response to “Barbie,” Semple returned to his previous plan and created “the pinkest Barbie.” Dubbed “Pinkie,” anyone can buy the paint as long as they can prove they’re not a Mattel employee.

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“The colors should belong to everyone. And companies should do what they do best, which is corporate stuff, and maybe leave the colors alone,” Semple said.

When asked to comment on Semple’s “Pinkie” painting, a Mattel spokesperson replied in an email, “While not a registered trademark, Pink Barbie is considered a well-known trademark of the brand.”

We’re drawn to colors because they instantly convey different emotions, explained David Loranger, professor of marketing and fashion merchandising at Sacred Heart University.

“I think that from a marketing perspective, having direct contact with the senses is very important because it’s not verbal, it’s a semiotic vehicle,” Loranger said. “The best marketing is deeply rooted in emotions.”

But where do these innate emotional connections come from? It could come from something in nature, a belief system, or something we’ve been told.

“Each color has a meaning that we recognize almost innately from that color, whether we learned it through association or simply through conditioning. This helps us intuitively understand the message and meaning being conveyed,” Pressman said.

When it comes to consumer marketing, pink’s wide variety of meanings means everyone can get involved. From haute couture, Valentino collaborated with Pantone to create a collection from the resulting custom hue, shown on a pink runway last March, to everyday items – pink abounds.

Meanwhile, markings shape our perception of color and it pays to have a signature hue.

“Color can be a powerful marketing tool. But beyond that, it’s about making a claim, finding something new to talk about and telling a story to the consumer,” said Miguel.

Dressed in pink, “Barbie” captures an artificial dreamland that inspires nostalgia and joy, and satisfies the audience’s need for escapism.

“People are happy to find something that captures their imagination and takes them somewhere simple, happy and fun,” Miguel said, “and pink is that.”

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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