A month ago, Valentino made its grand entry in India, drenched in the now iconic pink. From the lighting and accessories, to mannequins standing behind a foggy glass window, the 110 sq. m store—the label’s first outlet in the country, in Delhi’s DLF Emporio mall—screamed Valentino Pink PP.
The colour pink has, in fact, ruled red carpets and Instagram feeds globally this year. The pink has mutated from red, the original Valentino shade.
Just 55 steps away from the Valentino store in the luxury mall is the Louis Vuitton store, displaying an India-only capsule collection of women’s footwear—all in a striking magenta or, as the brand refers to it, as “the joyous shade of Indian pink” aka “rani pink”.
For two big luxury houses sitting so close and selling clothes and accessories in a similar shade (one looks lighter but only if you examine very closely) is far from a gamble or a coincidence. It seems like a well-calculated move to bank on the biggest fashion trend of 2022: colour.
Whether it was Valentino’s creative head Pierpaolo Piccioli (PP) claiming a bright luxurious pink as his own (he’s developed it in collaboration with Pantone), Louis Vuitton deciding that spark-joy pink defines a country as diverse as India, Bottega green becoming a flavour of the season, or Balenciaga pushing boundaries with neons, a major focus this year of brands, big and small, has been colour.
Colour, say designers, symbolises hope and optimism, sorely needed in these dire times. Additionally, one big reason for the return of rainbow brights could be the digital impact they make—in fact, as fashion begins to understand its voice in the metaverse, colour’s role may well become even more important.
Among the first off the block was Bottega Veneta. During its socially distanced spring 2021 ready-to-wear collection, the label introduced its new bright parakeet green hue. It was a bold move for a brand known for its minimalist take on fashion. The colour has remained popular this year as well, explaining why we have seen so much neon green on runways and the red carpet besides, of course, pink. Even Kate Middleton, the princess of Wales, picked up on this trend, wearing a rented neon green gown to the Earthshot Prize during her recent trip to the US.
This trend of bright shades will continue in the new year as well, believes Clare Smith, a colour strategist at global trend forecasters WGSN. “After a period of living life on pause, immense challenge and global uncertainty, consumers are starting to adjust and are feeling cautiously optimistic about the future, allowing colour to be alluring again,” Smith explains, referring to covid-19, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, and a looming recession. Small wonder then the Pantone colour of 2023 is the “powerful and empowering” Viva Magenta, an electric mishmash of red and pink that the global authority on colour says “explores the dynamic between artificial intelligence and human creativity”.
“In the new year, we will see near-neon shades and stimulating hyper-bright will continue to build, aligning with a mood of hope and positivity,” says Smith. “High pigment hues will play a central role in 2023, allowing consumers to enable new forms of self-expression through the likes of dopamine dressing or using colour to create impact online and IRL.”
Part of fashion’s love interest with colour as the protagonist of a collection is how it makes a wearer feel. There’s enough research to show that bright colours make you feel, well, bright. That’s why “dopamine dressing” was a trending hashtag when the pandemic had restricted us to our homes. As designer Tory Burch reiterates, “Colour is so emotional, and, in a chaotic world, people are embracing optimistic, energising colours.” Even she’s experimenting with colour. “I rarely wear purple, for instance, but I love our new handbags and shirts in electric violet,” she adds.
Where the attraction lies
Colour is what attracts us first to a garment and fashion brands have long known this. Imagine Tiffany without its iconic blue (discovered by the brand in 1837, though patented only in the 1990s). Or Christian Louboutin shoes without those red soles. Or Hermès without the orange. The stories of how these colours became part of a brand’s DNA add allure to each brand’s narrative, often becoming a great marketing tool.
In 2019, for instance, Hermès brought its travelling show, Hermès Heritage—Rouges Hermès, to Delhi, celebrating the colour red in several objects, from an 18th century travel writing case to a ceremonial military saddle. “We chose red because it was a colour for celebration,” Marie-Amélie Tharaud, director of the Hermès Conservatory of Creations, told Lounge recently, when she was in Mumbai for the label’s latest travelling show, Hermès Heritage In Motion, that focused on the brand’s history. “It’s also a colour of India.”
India has had a long association with colour. From the Mohenjo Daro civilisation, if you go by history books. From a historical perspective, white, indigo, red, green, yellow and black—all obtained from natural sources—have been the go-to colours of India, with each holding deep cultural significance. Red, for instance, is for everything auspicious. White, for mourning. The indigo sari used to be worn on Diwali to match the moon-less, deep-blue sky. Yellow continues to be the preferred choice on Basant Panchami, marking the arrival of spring. Green is popular on the Teej festival as a shade of prosperity and good fortune. “Colour is a way for people to express optimism and relief after periods of war or austerity,” says anthropologist Phyllida Jay, who recently launched her book, Inspired By India: How India Transformed Global Design. “In a way, that’s quite universal and ancient. Holi is celebrated to mark the start of spring after winter, for example. Expressing a sense of renewal through colour is integral to many Indian festivities and rituals.”
The emergence of attractive rani pink, on the other hand, is relatively new. Textile designer and curator Mayank Mansingh Kaul traces it to the 20th century, when chemical dyeing was introduced in India. “We have evidence of rani pink, or fuchsia, being first used in silk brocades in Banaras, sometime in the early 1900s. It’s not present in historical Indian textiles.”
Even in miniature and Mughal paintings, you find a lighter pink (think the gulab pink used in Raja Ravi Varma’s work, showing gods and goddesses atop pink lotuses), not the same rani pink that Dior used for its India-themed saddle bag in 2006. It’s the soft pink that legendary Diana Vreeland referred to when she said in 1962, “Pink is the navy blue in India.”
Dressed in colour
The romance with colour and India is so well known that it even inspired the West. In the 18th century, colourful textiles from India revolutionised dress and interiors in Europe, “inciting consumer desire for the bright colourfast chintzes and transforming the landscape of European luxury,” says Jay. “Rubia cordifolia, often known as Indian madder or Chay, is a species of flowering plant in the coffee family Rubiaceae. Its roots created those dazzling reds and pinks in Indian chintzes. The 18th century examples we can view in museum collections remain astonishingly vibrant today, a testimony to the dyers’ skill and the rich calcium deposits to be found in the water of the Coromandel coast, which helped fix the dye.”
It’s not known when the bright shade of pink—the one you have seen actors like Anne Hathaway and Ranveer Singh wear recently or fast fashion brands promote—became the colour of India but fashion labels definitely believe it’s representative of the country.
“It chimes with the deep cultural love for fuchsia or bougainvillea-toned rani pink (and colours similar to it, like hot pink) in India,” explains Jay. “No matter why it was first created or how the development of synthetic dyes and Bollywood chromatic bling may have contributed to its associations, it resonates tremendously with love for pink in India.”
It’s an India-proud colour, as is haldi, says designer Masaba Gupta, who wore a rani pink sari for a recent Vogue event. “Indians associate colour with emotions, they tie it to bad omen or good omen. We have specific colours for specific occasions,” she adds, explaining why rani pink is the colour of growth. Over the years, she adds, the relationship with colour has evolved. “While we are still very particular about wearing reds and whites and blacks for different occasions, the relationship has now become democratic. You see now brides wearing beige, even white, which was a complete no-no till a few years ago,” says Gupta, who recently created a collection with colour as her muse.
So did Gaurav Jai Gupta, a fashion and textile designer known for his interventions in weaving, and, in particular, his use of metallic threads such as copper and stainless steel. His label, Akaaro, recently made Klein Blue his shade of the season with the The Sky Is Mine collection, unveiled at Delhi’s Kiran Nadar Museum. Handwoven silk-engineered cocoon dresses, thread-dotted hand-embroidered silk cotton blazers were paired with silk metallic striped trousers and a silk satin Jamdani dress added freshness to the label’s signature style. “Initially, I thought that it’s a risk I am taking by doing an entire collection on a single colour. But what I realised later is that it managed to hold on to viewers’ attention as a unified visual medium. It just got traction a lot faster,” he explains. “I think that the idea/vision of colour also changes with changing times and culture.”
Commercially too, colour was a strong trend in India, according to Alka Nishar, founder of the multi-brand store Aza. “I think right now everyone wants to celebrate after the last two years and so colour has been strong,” she says, echoing the words of Burch and WGSN’s Smith.
She points out, however, that pastels, gold and shimmer are also important in the Indian market. “The Indian wedding means shades of red, pink and orange always matter. But pastels have sold well and I see that trend continuing. Shimmer will always matter in India.”
Colour has also crossed gender boundaries. “For the first time in over a century,” says Smith, “pink is taking on genderless qualities and is no longer being used to control gender. These (bright) shades are sparking conversations, pushing boundaries, shouting out against the norm. And consumers are embracing them for their rebellious and empowering quality.”