A Little History of Shocking Pink

For the first time in American Duchess history, we’ve created shoes in several very strong pinks, all drawn from and inspired by a late 1930s “Surrealist” palette. As with many things in historical fashion, the accuracy of seemingly modern visual elements is questioned. Names, colors, sometimes silhouettes or whole designs sometimes seem so modern they can’t possibly be antique, but we don’t give our ancestors enough credit!

Pink is one such color often thought entirely too modern. All shades of pink seem to suffer from this assumption, but soft pinks were all the rage in the 17th century for both women and men, strong rose pink was a popular color in the 18th century, chemically-created magentas caused a stir in the 19th century, and Shocking Pink, the hottest of them all, was one of the top colors of the 20th century.

“Think Pink ” from the Audrey Hepburn film “Funny Face,” 1957

In World War II Europe, designers kept spirits up and expressed themselves against a dark world through bold color and clever embellishment, working around material shortages and rationing regulations on the manufacture of clothing. Paired with strong movements in art, philosophy, architecture, and music, fashion designers incorporated the sentiments, feelings, and expressions of Surrealism, Art Deco, and Abstract Expressionism into their work. These concept manifested in silhouette, interesting fabrics, textile prints, and color.

Elsa Schiaparelli first adopted Shocking Pink in the early 1930s, saying of the color, “Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the lights and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a colour of China and Peru but not of the West – a shocking colour, pure and undiluted.” By 1937, Shocking Pink was Schiaparelli’s signature color.

Schiaparelli, 1938-39, The Met

This particular shade of pink, created by Schiaparelli by mixing just a little white into magenta, caused a sensation in the late 1930s and continued with full force through the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, with other couturiers such as Adrian, Charles James, Balenciaga, and Galanos following suit.

Gilbert Adrian, 1948-49, The Met
Balenciaga, 1954 – V&A
Charles James, 1955, The Met
James Galanos, 1967, The Met
Bruce Oldfield, c. 1980-89, Fashion Museum Bath

The eye-popping quality of the color has a curiously enduring modernity. From the late 1930s to today, every dress in searing hot pink seems to be exactly of its time, and the color far too modern to be any older than that moment in fashion history.

Few colors are so divisive, and Schiaparelli knew this. Today, Shocking Pink still shocks at the Met Gala, various red carpets and runways, and on Instagram. We’re proud to add our contribution to the long and enduring history of Shocking Pink, long may it reign.

Karolina Zebrowska in a designer inspired by Schiaparelli, paired with her Karolina Oxfords.
Karolina Zebrowksa in Shocking Pink and glimmering gold. The 20th century is proud.

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