Repellent or revolutionary, pink’s influence cannot be ignored. Greene observed it can be soft and nurturing, as in Love’s Baby Soft fragrance; or it can make a strong statement, as in Powerful Pink, cited by moderator Adkins-Green. The color itself, whether subdued or shocking, continues to evoke strong feelings and reactions to its vast tonal spectrum.
The Breadth of Context
Valerie Steele, the director of The Museum at FIT and exhibition curator, introduced the event, saying that the color pink runs the gamut from cute to confident. While the exhibition asks viewers to consider the names for different shades, from Baby Pink, Ballet-Slipper Pink, Blush Pink, Barbie Pink, Bubblegum Pink and Petal Pink, the color is given its meaning by its associations.
According to color historian, Michel Pastoureau, as noted in the exhibition, “Color is a natural phenomenon, of course, but it is also a cultural construct. There is no transcultural truth to color perception. It is a society that ‘makes’ color, defines it, gives it meaning.”
Hence, androgynous pink, erogenous pink, and politicized pink all communicate associations that are antithetical to the stereotypical pink-is-for-girls and blue-is-for-boys, paradigm. The panelists looked closely at what has become, and what is becoming, about this contested color.
“The color conveys a great deal in women’s history,” said Adkins-Green. “Mary Kay herself was always partial to pink, and one of her first marketing decisions was to leverage the pink palette in Mary Kay’s business. She even purchased her trademark pink Cadillac.”
She explained that the company continues to keep the pink palette wardrobe as a key part of leveraging the Mary Kay brand.
In response to how the color became so popular, Karen Young noted that pink has historically focused on making a statement.
“From the political overtones of the #MeToo Movement, to its iconic presence in the color cosmetic industry, including the creation and naming of Millennial Pink and Punk Pink, the color has been making statements,” said Young.
Adkins-Green cited the popularity of the Mary Kay fragrance, Pink Diamonds, which has been very successful in Latin America.
“The connection between color and scent is critical,” said Kate Greene. “From pale pink, to hot pink, or to woods, synesthesia is a natural part of perfumery. That is where scent is seen in terms of color,” she said.
Pink Diamonds, created by Givaudan, possesses pink grapefruit, ylang-ylang and juicy apple notes.
“When we are being briefed about a fragrance, we think in terms of color. We love color, it’s very important to our work,” she said.
In response to whether a fragrance story begins with color or notes first, Greene explained, “The first question asked of our clients is what is the color? So, we want to get into the color mood of the fragrance. Shocking fragrance, for example, captures the bold, pink Oriental of the tonality of Shocking Pink.”
Young noted the changing color combinations associated with the color pink.
“Pink is now being combined with red or yellow. If you work in the color category, you know the huge gamut of the pink color palette,” she said.
Adkins-Green said the range of tones in color cosmetics was extensive. “We have had 54 shades of pink in the Mary Kay palette,” she said, noting its versatility.
She shared a video with the audience, called, A Day in the Life of a Pink Lipstick, which highlighted not only its manufacture, but its role as a confidence builder for women wearing color cosmetics.
Luis Casco, who as global ambassador for Mary Kay travels the world experiencing and sharing the nuances of color in beauty and fashion, explained his view of the color.
“Pink comes is so many different hues. I’ve worked with Mary Kay to bring back Dusty Rose as an eye shadow, where it had previously been a lipstick,” he said.
Adkins-Green added, “I think it’s a joyous, gorgeous color; and, of course, so is Powerful Pink, which I’m wearing today.”
They agreed that it’s all about individuality.
“It could be something more sheer in texture or more matte. It’s incredible to think of the color in terms of a lipstick or for cheeks or eyes, or even for home fashion,” said Casco.
Changing the Rules
Karen Young described some of the ways in which the rules of the color game have changed.
“When I was with Estée Lauder, almost everything had pink undertones, per Estée’s preference. Then Bobbi Brown came along and she focused on yellow undertones. At Lancôme, pink was considered very American, but not so European, where tastes were different,” she said. Palette preferences, said Young, definitely vary according to region.
“I have traveled to five continents this year alone. When I was in Asia, Korea and Japan, I could see that it is still about that glass skin, with a bit of stain on the lips, and glowing cheeks. I’m from El Salvador, and my mom can’t go out without her lipstick. In Latin America color is very important, it’s saturated and bold. In Russia it’s a softer palette, so it’s interesting to see the differences in color preferences.”
Greene cited the pop of pink that you notice when you’re in a room, referring to a colorful pink hat she spotted in the audience.
“We see the same intensities in fragrance. We talk about the light pink floral in scent,” she said.
Casco highlighted the effect of bright color, noting that the most Instagrammable moments focus on bright colors. In a response to Adkins-Green’s question of whether pink had really grown up now, the panelists agreed that while pink has a wide range of iterations, it was generally playful.
“Utilizing pink in your wardrobe is always fun,” said Greene, while Young saw it as attention grabbing, but not as much as red. However, it still remained a color with many different personalities.
Greene’s affinity for Love’s Baby Soft, one of her early favorites, still conveys the idea of caring, and a childlike feeling with a spectrum of emotions.
“Whether it’s Pink Diamonds or Narciso Rodriguez’s original fragrance, in its pink packaging, the color conveys many different nuances,” said Greene.
Young recalled, “Mrs. Estée Lauder’s decision to have more pink in the packaging of Lauder’s fragrance, Beautiful, with a very pink almost solid pink package, really went to the heart of the fragrance, and the rest is history,” she said.
Cultural Marker and Makeup Inspiration
Adkins-Green noted that Mary Kay was not the only pink proponent of renown, citing Aretha Franklin, who sang about riding in a pink Cadillac on the Freeway of Love. Likewise, former fashion editor, Diana Vreeland is credited with having said, “Pink is the navy blue of India.” Indeed, the use of pink as a unisex color is still popular in many other parts of the world.
“Pink is a perfect storm. It can be soft, feminine, and nurturing, but also quite edgy. It is used in the Harajuku Girls fragrances, and it also makes both a political and social statement,” said Young.
Everyone has seen the pink pussy hats worn at the Women’s March of 2017, one of which is included in FIT’s exhibition, as well as the pink ribbon, the international symbol of breast cancer awareness.
“No other color has that fluidity,” said Adkins-Green.
Despite its pliancy, pink has staying power, asserted Casco.
“It’s fun, joyous. I’ve done many makeup tests and I think when you don’t want a smoky eye to be so serious, then you give a sheer pink lip. I love red, but I think it’s a lot more serious. Pink is a huge part of makeup looks inspired by fashion,” he said.
Discussing what drives a makeup look, Casco said, “You need to have an open mind; nuances like adding a shade of pink can give a compelling, different feeling. There are many options and textures and ways to wear things.”
With such a spectrum to choose from, Greene said her team looks at everything.
“I actually have a disco ball in my office, and we also have mood boards. There’s also inspiration from food and flavors,” she noted, explaining that flavors can have a scent and texture.
“We look at the inspiration and right away go to the scent. We’ll look at fashion in terms of olfactive reference; for example, pink and leather; or there might be an opportunity to take a Bulgarian rose or a rose harvested in Morocco. Or we could take a rose petal and light it on fire, which we have actually done, and we get a new scent profile,” she said.
Greene described the cotton candy pink clouds over Manhattan that she recently instagrammed, saying, “You can get a whole olfactive feeling from looking at tones of color.”
Adkins-Green added, “In the beauty and cosmetic industry, we have to be able to bring all of these sensory elements together.”
The Future of Pink Is Rosy
While Millennial Pink was big in 2018, the future of pink in cosmetics and fashion is still being determined. Young said that Schiaparelli Pink, with saturated color, would be strong, while Greene predicted that orange, or an orangey color with saturation, that offered pure and unadulterated color, would be a new fashion statement.
Casco noted that fashion was once a major factor in driving makeup, but this has changed.
“It’s now fashion, celebrity, and social media that drive makeup. The correlation is definitely there with Mary Kay and it’s fun to see how women embrace different products and colors that are easy to blend and that will also work as lip or cheek color,” he said.
Casco cited Juicy Guava by Mary Kay, a pink color with a warm overtone, available as a Mineral Cheek Color Duo with a pearlized highlighting shade, as a versatile palette that resonates with women. He ventured that lipstick would have a heavier, vinyl-like shine; while Adkins-Green looked at the confidence factor in color cosmetics, particularly in the naming of colors, noting that product names must be compelling, as well as translatable into different languages.
“Powerful Pink is the name of Mary Kay’s most popular lipstick,” noted Adkins-Green.”You can put on that shade of lipstick and you’re feeling confident again. For Mary Kay, that’s what’s trending now.”
The current exhibition, Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color, is on view at the Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology through Jan. 5, 2019. •