Shocking Pink

Sometime during the night, the buds of Pelargonium echinatum unfolded their cerise petals. The next morning, the intensity of the color was a shock to eyes grown accustomed to the restrained colors of winter.


Which is about the time I wondered: When did pink leave demure behind to become shocking? And when did those two words first become inseparable?


What’s amazing to me, number one, is there is an answer to be found to such idle questions of mine, and it can be unearthed in less than 10 minutes:
Pink first became shocking when the eponymous perfume Shocking was launched in 1937, the packaging designed by Leonor Fini for fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.


Surrealist-inspired Schiaparelli — pardon the crude and class-divisive shorthand which was in use at the time — was the ugly aristocrat to Coco Chanel’s pretty commoner, Chanel’s designs as sedate as Schiaparelli’s were outrageously flamboyant, and the two were supposedly intense rivals. (Perhaps flamboyance comes easier to those with trust funds? Just wondering…) Legendary photographer Horst P. Horst, interviewed by Maureen Dowd for the New York Times in 1988, remembers: “Chanel so disliked the overpowering style of the shocking pink, Dali-sketched creations of Elsa Schiaparelli…that she always pretended to forget Schiaparelli’s name, referring to her rival as ‘that Italian designer.'” Horst royally ticked off Chanel by photographing Schiaparelli first, but Chanel apparently became mollified enough to later sit for Horst. (Is life still this exciting?)

Tiny copy of Horst’s portrait of Schiaparelli:


Horst’s portrait of Coco Chanel:


The women’s choice of head gear says it all.

Horst might be better known for this corset ad, re-enacted by a famous singer in her ’90s music videoVogue directed by David Fincher:


In remembering how she came upon the name for her perfume, Schiaparelli recalls in her autobiography Shocking Life: “The colour flashed in front of my eyes. Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world put together, a colour of China and Peru but not of the West’s shocking colour, pure and undiluted.”

Practically speaking, this little South African pelargonium is kept dry in summer, when it goes dormant, then erupts in impudent, shocking pink flowers after winter rains. Elsa would love it, a shocking color, pure and undiluted.

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7 Responses to Shocking Pink

  1. Kathy says:

    On the other hand, there’s magenta.

  2. I’m not sure that pink was ever demure – not on any adult anyway – but the flowers are pretty and the perfume and photography was very interesting

  3. Grace says:

    Some would care to dispute the moniker shocking pink, preferring the less complimentary “magenta.” Christo Lloyd comes to mind. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. So true. I love it.

  4. Denise says:

    Kathy & Grace, point taken with “magenta.” But I think I literally muttered “shocking” when I saw this flower, hence my train of thought…
    Loree, it is too much fun.
    AYIMG, Matt’s blog Growing with Plants has a good piece on pink being chosen as the color of the year. But a room with pink walls?

  5. I must have the Chanel version of Pelargonium echinatum. Mine flowers white and has demure, dark rose spots. I think I’d rather have the Schiaparelli version.

  6. Denise says:

    Kelly, I wasn’t sure mine was P. echinatum, but I guess they’re variable. Your photostream has such amazing plants — I’m so glad you linked it!

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