Most people would agree that pink is ‘pretty’ – whether or not they intend that to be a compliment. But ‘punk’ or ‘powerful’? This exhibition makes a compelling case for those descriptives, too. ‘Pink provokes exceptionally strong feelings of both attraction and repulsion,’ reads an introductory wall panel, noting further that the hue has been dubbed the ‘most divisive of colors.’ Icons from Madame de Pompadour to Marilyn Monroe to Madonna have worn the colour and certainly understood its potency by reveling in, or rebelling, at its connotations. As organised by the museum’s director and chief curator, Dr. Valerie Steele, some 80 ensembles are displayed in two dark rooms, lit in flattering tints of the shade and accompanied by familiar tunes like Edith Piaf’s plaintiff La Vie en Rose and Henry Mancini’s theme from the Pink Panther movies.
Gallery one presents an overview of pink fashions, from the blushing to the shocking. There are a few frilly taffeta-and-lace confections from the 19th century and, at the centre of it all, a reproduction of the stunning wisp of Ralph Lauren that actress Gwyneth Paltrow chose for an appearance at the 1999 Oscars. So many tones (coral, salmon, cherry and carnation) are represented, though, that the assemblage is in danger of going off message. The diversity of the colour may be the point, but placing garments that read more like nude, red or orange under the rubric of rose seems indulgent and a little lazy. There’s even a solo, uncredited little black dress from the1920s; the pitch being that the type’s popularity led to a resurgence of pink.
Before leaving this introduction, be sure to spend some time before the endlessly fascinating diorama of pink girls’ toys which brings to life the spirit of what was depicted in JeongMee Yoon’s 2007 photograph Jeeyoo and Her Pink Things. It’s all chockablock here – from a pink elephant to ubiquitous Hello Kitty and Barbie paraphernalia. The installation is a perfect lead-in to the second gallery, where the exhibit’s designers offer a look at more specific social aspects of this pretty pastel pigment. Besides its ironic appearance in punk get-ups (a leather jacket and gingham tutu combo from Comme des Garcons) and its recent use as a political tool (a knitted ‘pussy hat,’ that recent emblem of fierce women everywhere), we more closely explore pink as a gender signifier – including pink as a popular choice for men and boys on and off through the ages. Elsewhere, a lingerie section takes a peek underneath it all, the place where pink would seem most happily at home.
A beautiful accompanying book of the same title and edited by Steele is more than just a catalogue, it delves into the topic in greater detail and context, showcasing not just costumes but visual art, decorative art, industrial design, and installation pieces that relate to the themes of the show.
PINK: The history of a punk, pretty, powerful color, Fashion Institute of Technology, Seventh Avenue at 27th Street, New York, 7 September - 5 January 2019.
Extract from the East issue, words by JoAnn Greco.