How to catch the eye of a world-famous author? Wear a pink dress. This was the conclusion to which the American novelist Edith Wharton came when she was invited to a party in Paris in 1887. Set to meet her literary idol Henry James, she wore her newest Doucet dress. “It was pretty,” she later wrote. “Tea-rose pink, embroidered with iridescent beads.” It didn’t work. (Neither did a particularly spectacular hat, worn several years later, in Venice.) She had to wait several years until James sought her out to compliment her short fiction.
Perhaps Edith should have worn shocking pink. After all, it worked for Marilyn Monroe in 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Who can forget that audacious, succulent, dragon fruit-hued strapless dress, accompanied by “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”? A creation of costume designer William Travilla, and made of peau d’ange glued to felt to lend it structure, the pink dress was run up at the last minute at the behest of a panicked Hollywood studio, replacing a racy showgirl costume Travilla had originally designed (a nude calendar of Monroe had just been released, and the papers were going will). Travilla was told to “cover her up” in gloves and a column gown with a giant bow. Instead, the hot-pink dress made her a star.
Pink is unapologetically intense, a strange admixture of prissy and punk; joy and danger. Even in a please-and-thank-you pale baby shade, it never fails to look festive. Designers are feeling it for A/W ’18 and resort: pink dresses from sulky calamine to cyclamen and Stabilo highlighter tumbled down catwalks like petals, at Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci, Molly Goddard, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini and Attica. All were decidedly after-dark dresses with a common goal: to provide pleasure – and to induce their wearer to stay up late.
“I’ve always had a great night in a pink dress,” says Alexa Chung. ‘A lot of my life is spent in jeans and T-shirts, so when along comes a sassy, eye-catching, cute – but in a hot way – pink minidress, it’s like discovering water in a desert. I love the fantasy and escapism of it” Molly Goddard whose autumn collection features a number of “sickly pink” smock taffeta dresses, concurs. “I have about 10 pink dresses and fondly recall the night after my first Fashion Week presentation, when me and 10 of my friends did a fashion party crawl until the early hours, me running around Soho in a pink tulle dress and Converse.
In its most pigment-heavy shades, pink promises impact that’s universally effective. Holly Golightly, widely acknowledged to be film’s most stylish screen presence, understood its brutal charm. Her wardrobe in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is largely severe, clean and black.F She saves the burst of colour for shocking-pink, green-rhinestone-studded, bell-shaped Givenchy dress – worn to woo her Brazilian politician Jose da Silva Pereira (Audrey Hepburn, the actress who played her in the adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella, declared: “I believe in pink”).
Pink and parties don’t always work out, though in some cases that’s down to design. Chung recalls a pink frilly Valentino Couture dress she loved, which was lampooned by Joan Rivers on Fashion Police. “I’ve never laughed harder,” recalls Chung. “She asked Me if I actually thought I could get laid in it I said I didn’t think that was the point. This perplexed both of us.”
Still, “mature” is the best mentality for pink this Christmas. Giorgia Tordini, whose label Attico has a number of standout pink party dresses for autumn, counsels a “less is more” approach. A serial woman in black, she has unexpectedly fallen for the hue. “I am surprised at myself but every fabric I chose for the collection just seemed right in pink,” she says. “I loved wearing our pink ostrich feather dress, but since pink is very unusual for me, I styled it with very minimal accessories: I advise black stilettos or very thin black high-heeled sandals and a little black pouch”.
Susie Cave, whose label The Vampire’s Wife does a fine line in pink dresses, likes the shade in its palest state, “My preference is blush… it has a strange ethereal quality and feels connected to childhood and memory,” she emails. Still, her Medici brocade dress in Cartland pink is my personal favourite. It has taken one on many a wild night out – and when I last wore to it to a party, a good-looking stranger remarked that I looked like “a gorgeous Easter egg”. Edith Wharton – would have melted.