Why Millennial Pink Refuses to Go Away

The color isn’t going anywhere. Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Even if you haven’t heard of Millennial Pink, or didn’t know that it went by this name (it’s also known as Tumblr Pink and Scandi Pink), you’ve seen it. At first, in 2012, when this color really started showing up everywhere, it appeared as a toned-down version of its foil, Barbie Pink, a softer shade that looks as if all the blue notes have been taken out. By the time everyone started calling it Millennial Pink in the summer of 2016, the color had mutated and expanded to include a range of shades from beige with just a touch of blush to a peach-salmon hybrid. Colors always come in and out of fashion, and as our fashion editor-at-large, Amy Larocca, points out, often when Pantone declares Marsala Red or Radiant Orchid to be the next color to watch, we shrug knowingly, fully expecting to see that shade on shelves but not expecting it to invade our consciousness. This pink is different. Even now, just when it seemed like we had hit a peak and it was finally on the wane, there it appeared again in Fenty’s spring look book and on army jackets at Madewell. That’s because the color keeps on selling product: “We’ve upholstered things in this emerald green that we’re excited about, but it sits there for months,” says Fabiana Faria of the boutique Coming Soon. “The second I show a pink thing — anything — it leaves so quickly.” But why? For one thing, with Millennial Pink, gone is the girly-girl baggage; now it’s androgynous. (Interestingly, back in 1918, the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department published an article saying, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls.”) In these Instagram-filtered times, it doesn’t hurt that the color happens to be both flattering and generally pleasing to the eye, but it also speaks to an era in which trans models walk the runway, gender-neutral clothing lines are the thing, and man-buns abound. It’s been reported that at least 50 percent of millennials believe that gender runs on a spectrum — this pink is their genderless mascot. At the same time, turn-of-the-century pinks (Paris Hilton Juicy sweat suits, fuzzy Clueless pens) and tacky design tropes of the ’80s (Pepto couches) have made an ironic comeback. Millennial Pink’s desaturated shade is a subtle wink back to those lesser aesthetic times, paired with a sincere confidence that we’re doing it better now. It’s cheeky, sincere, and nostalgic all at once — which is perhaps why the earnest ironist Wes Anderson bathed the entirety of The Grand Budapest Hotel in the color — filling us with a bright, wide-eyed wonder and even, for at least a moment, keeping us calm.

Timeline: From Fragonard to Fenty

It took a long time to arrive, but now there’s no missing it.

Photo: Philafrenzy/Wikimedia Commons

1767: Jean-Honoré Fragonard paints The Swing.

1968: Mexican architect Luis Barragán (who reportedly had his maid prepare him entirely pink meals) completes the pink Cuadra San Cristóbal.

1970s: Furniture designer Milo Baughman makes pink-and-chrome credenzas and swivel chairs.

Photo: Murray’s Toggery Shop

1980s: Faded “Nantucket Reds” are actually pink.

1981: Ettore Sottsass founds the pink-centric Memphis Group.

1985: Florent restaurant opens with a pink ceiling and walls.

1987: David Hicks uses light-pink wallpaper for his Vila Verde house in Portugal.

1998: Juergen Teller photographs Kate Moss lying in bed with pink hair.

2003: The Simple Life premieres, and Paris Hilton introduces a lifestyle out of pink.

2005: Paul Smith opens a neon-pink store in L.A. (years later, thanks to washed-out Instagram filters, the building’s exterior becomes a Millennial Pink backdrop for countless photo shoots).

2007: Acne Studios debuts its pink shopping bag. Jonny Johansson says he was inspired by “a pink sandwich-wrapper paper lying on my desk.”

2007: Palazzo Chupi rises (these days, its neon-pink façade has faded to a paler shade).

February 2011: During London Fashion Week, the model Charlotte Free walks down six runways with pink hair. Bleach London salon, which is often credited with starting the dip-dye trend, “can’t begin to count the amount of people who brought in a picture of her as their ‘hairspiration’ image.”

Spring 2012: Mansur Gavriel launches its bucket bag, the inside of which is painted pink. The founders say the shade is inspired by Barragán.

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

February 2013: Designer Ryan Roche reveals her first collection of clothing in what she refers to as “Ryan Roche pink,” a color inspired by her childhood My Little Pony: “It wasn’t that baby pink, it was the earthier dusty pink,” she says. “I just remember thinking, That looks so delicious. Looking at it is like touching the softest cashmere. It makes me so crazy inside.” When she is nominated for the FDA/Vogue Fashion Fund the next year, she wears exclusively this color to all her events and interviews.

Summer 2013: Erica Blumenthal and Nikki Huganir launch Yes Way Rosé, “a lifestyle brand that captures the lighthearted spirit of rosé wine.” Edouard Bourgeois, head sommelier of Café Boulud, has this to say on rosé’s rapid rise: “The color makes wine appear more accessible and less frightening.”

Overheard in November 2013

A conversation between Fabiana Faria, co-owner of the then-new Lower East Side shop Coming Soon, and Emily Weiss, founder of then-about-to-launch beauty line Glossier.

Emily: I love your pink chairs. I’m working with the same color for my new company.

Fabiana: I thought we were being rebellious when we first started using it. I hadn’t really seen it anywhere before.

Emily: Yeah, here’s a photo of what our makeup tubes will look like. [Shows Fabiana an image.]

Fabiana: We’re using it on our lighters, too! [Shows Emily a pink Coming Soon lighter.]

January 2014: Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso unveils the cover for her first book, #Girlboss, on which she’s framed in light pink.

Early 2014: Scandinavian designers like Muuto, Normann Copenhagen, Space Copenhagen, Scholten & Baijings, and Bjarni Sigurdsson have embraced the color, which becomes known as “Scandi pink” on Pinterest.

March 2014: The upper half of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

June 2014: British artist David Shrigley and the designer India Mahdavi update the Gallery at Sketch London, a restaurant, with pink walls and pink velvet chairs to complement Shrigley’s illustrations. The restaurant gives the room to a new artist to redecorate every two years, but this color is so popular that they decide not to change it. Two years later, Mahdavi uses the same color on the walls in a Red Valentino store in London and on the furniture in an installation at Ralph Pucci in New York.

The Gallery at Sketch London. Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

November 2014: The Color Marketing Group, a worldwide nonprofit color-forecasting group of which Pantone is a member, picks Shim, a deep pink-beige, as the 2016 emerging color (the group works two years in advance). It’s an early version of Millennial Pink, but that term won’t be coined for another two years. The Asia-Pacific members of the group are the first to notice the color and say that it represents a change in gender roles; the name Shim is a play on she and him. Mark Woodman, the former president of CMG, calls the color a “moment of quietude” and explains that “there’s so much stress that people think, What can I do in color and texture that I can take with me that gives me a moment to calm down? That’s why velvet is interesting in this millennial color pink, because it’s a tactile softness with the visual softness.”

December 2014: Of all pink-related tags on Tumblr, #palepink becomes the most popular, used even more than #pink itself. Some take to calling the shade Tumblr Pink. Tumblr’s fashion and art lead, Valentine Uhovski, says, “Tumblr Pink is a tone that somehow merges the millennial futurism and mid-century idealism all at once.”

The Overexposed Restaurant Table

Photo: @eatingwithminnie

April 2015: Dimes restaurant opens a bigger space on the Lower East Side with one light-pink table. By September 2016, so many customers are requesting to sit at the table (and Instagram their grain bowls atop it) that the restaurant’s owners decide to remove it.

May 2015: @PlantsOnPink joins Instagram. It’s an account of exactly that, with 73,000 followers.

July 2015: The final cover jacket of Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter is approved. On his color choice, the designer, Oliver Munday, says, “I wish I had a more conceptual argument for why I used it, but it both complemented and contrasted the Burgundy-color wine I liked. There was also a dissonance between the black crude lettering and how it sat on top of the pink.” (Knopf is using the color again on another food memoir, out in May — this time because it reminded the designers of ham.)

July 2015: Drake releases Hotline Bling.

September 2015: Apple reveals the rose-gold iPhone. On Twitter, people immediately start calling it “the pink iPhone.”

And now for a note about rose gold …

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

While it’s not quite Millennial Pink, we can’t talk about one without the other. Rose gold first reached its peak of influence in the early-20th century. At the time, Peter Carl Fabergé employed it in the decorative “Moscow egg” he made for the czar, and it was commonly used in high-end jewelry. But toward the middle of the century, it fell out of favor until its modern-day return at the Biennale des Antiquaires in 2012, when Piaget showed an antique rose-gold ring and Boucheron a rose-gold Delilah necklace. From there, it was found on Michael Kors watches, Ted Baker zippers, and the iPhone, where it quickly exploded. Now Tiffany and Cartier offer rose-gold engagement rings, and at this year’s Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, Kohler showed rose-gold plumbing fixtures. It’s even made its way to Bed Bath & Beyond, where you can buy rose-gold toilet-paper stands and luggage.

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

October 2015: Thinx period underwear launches a ubiquitous–in–New York pink ad campaign. The designers chose this color for two reasons: It matched the grapefruit they wanted to feature and it gelled with their idea of changing society’s understanding of femininity.

November 2015: Pantone picks Rose Quartz, a light peachy-pink, and Serenity, an almost-periwinkle blue, as its colors of the year. Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, says that the Agnes Martin exhibit at the Tate Modern, which featured both colors prominently (and came to the Guggenheim next), was a big reason they were chosen. She adds: “The use of light pink with metallics is really interesting — this nostalgic and old-fashioned color that’s being used in high-tech.”

The Politics of a Tint

“I thought Pantone’s decision to name Rose Quartz color of the year in 2015 was very smart from an opportunistic standpoint in terms of where we are with conversations about gender fluidity. It felt like a statement. The color we’re seeing now is a lot more muted than the original Pantone Rose Quartz, and I think that sort of subtle pink is in many ways a loud appropriation of the color pink. Millennial Pink, or Tumblr Pink, as I’ve also heard it called, is a political appropriation of color. Pink has a history of being such a polarizing color, relegated to Barbies and bubble gum, and that’s changing for political reasons as opposed to aesthetic ones. It’s a question of ownership, and I think that’s very exciting. For an ad campaign [like that of Thinx period underwear] to use a polarizing color in a mainstream way is a pretty important statement. Pink hasn’t traditionally worked across genders, but it fits right in there with the man-bun and the man-bag, where we’re seeing this fluidity like never before. The pink pussy hat is not Millennial Pink, but the fact that it’s being used now as part of the resistance is an extension of that. It was also probably much easier to find that particular pink in craft stores.” —Debbie Millman, host of Design Matters, brand consultant, and chair of the master’s program in branding at the School of Visual Arts (four of her former students have worked at Thinx)

November 2015: Snarkitecture x Cos opens an all-pink L.A. pop-up shop.

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

January 2016: Pokéworks, a fast-casual restaurant serving the Hawaiian dish poke, opens in midtown. Lines snake out the door during lunchtime, and plans are made to open two additional locations as more and more poke-focused restaurants open around the city. Kevin Hsu, co-founder of Pokéworks, says of the dish’s rise: “Traditional poke is made with tuna, but the salmon here is equally popular. We have menu boards, but our customers mostly just look down and point to things, like, I want this and I want that, guided by the colors. The salmon’s pink color can change to become brighter or darker depending on what you mix it in. So often, we see our customers excitedly looking on as we make the bowls.”

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images

January 2016: Common Projects releases its classic Achilles style for men in blush. The sneaker’s designer, Peter Poopat, says, “Particularly for men, that specific tone of pink resonates as the epitome of modern. It’s subtle and still bold. It makes everything feel new.”

February 2016: Over Valentine’s Day weekend, pop star and One Direction alum Zayn Malik dyes the tips of his hair pink. By the same time the following year, Janelle Chaplin, the creative director of New York’s O&M hair salon, says, “Pastels are winding down.” She adds, “Lots of people have been coming in and wanting gray hair dye. How much pink can you take, you know what I mean?”

It Even Got to the Trash Can

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

February 2016: Le Creuset launches the Oasis collection. It says it’s “mid-century”-inspired and calls the color “hibiscus.” (It’s Millennial Pink.)

Other Pink Home Goods:

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

Clockwise from top-left: Bino mini trash can, $24 at urbanoutfitters.com. Meta side table, $350 at newtendency.com. KitchenAid artisan series stand mixer, $300 at amazon.com. Smeg toaster, $150 at williamssonoma.com.

Photo: Imaxtree

June 2016: As his influence begins to peak, Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, shows three just-enough-pink dresses at his resort collection.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

July 2016: Ivanka Trump wears a blush-pink sheath dress (from her own line) to the Republican National Convention.

The Prescient Group Text

July 2016: Twitter personality and MTV writer Darcie Wilder tweets, “Im in a grouptext about how everything looks like this now,” with a collage of pink ads and magazine covers. Four days later, the Cut’s Véronique Hyland writes a post titled “Is There Some Reason Millennial Women Love This Color?” And with that, the term “Millennial Pink” is born.

September 2016: Pantone picks Pale Dogwood for its spring 2017 fashion color report. By now, the Millennial Pink spectrum has transitioned from the brighter rose quartz to include this much paler shade, which is closer to beige with a blush tint. Eiseman from Pantone calls it a “nuanced neutral. It has that staying power.”

A Nolita Restaurant That Went All In

September 2016: Pietro Quaglia, a former Dolce & Gabbana intern turned restaurateur, opens the all-pink Italian restaurant Pietro Nolita in New York City.

Photo: Courtesy of Pietro Nolita and Instagram

The wooden chairs and leather banquettes are two different shades of light pink. “It doesn’t feel overwhelmingly pink, because all of the pink tones and textures create diversity,” explains the restaurant’s designer, Jeanette Dalrot, who says she was inspired by the Italian designer Gio Ponti. “I wanted to do the floor in pink, but that was too much. Then it became like Pepto-Bismol and Victoria’s Secret,” Quaglia adds.

The walls inside are three shades of pink, but the lightest shade is actually a pink plaster. Quaglia and Dalrot had the pink pigment mixed into the plaster to get the exact color they wanted. The other two shades were chosen after sampling more than 20 pink paints.

Photo: Courtesy of Pietro Nolita and Instagram

“Green and pink go well together, so we use green plants,” says Quaglia. It’s the only other color in the space.

There are about eight different shades of pink in the restaurant. Most of them lean toward the bluer, bubblier shades, but the vintage lights and enamel boxes are closest to Millennial Pink.

Photo: Courtesy of Pietro Nolita and Instagram

The bathroom wall is covered in pink-and-white stickers designed by the artist Curtis Kulig that are pasted to look like wallpaper. “People are always trying to steal them,” says Quaglia. He also found a pink mirror in the shape of a heart, for selfies.

Photo: Courtesy of Pietro Nolita and Instagram

The napkins are printed with the words “Pink as Fuck.” Quaglia says: “I came up with that because I was so scared to do the whole place in pink, so I decided to make it bold.” Dalrot adds: “When it came to going with pink, we looked more toward the Memphis Group and how they used it. It never felt like the typical feminine, girly, soft color with them. They made it look more interesting and bold.”

Photo: Courtesy of Pietro Nolita and Instagram

Quaglia adds a chunk of ricotta to his spaghetti al pomodoro. “I tell my customers that if you mix it for 30 seconds, it becomes pink like the restaurant.” He also serves pink cocktails with mezcal and hibiscus.

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

October 2016: The Wing, a members-only social club for women, opens in New York with walls painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pink Ground. “We used it because we didn’t want the space to be girly-girl, but we wanted something soft and feminine,” explains Chiara de Rege, who designed the Wing and cites Acne as the longest-running reference for the color. The couches and chairs are also upholstered in pink. “There was a certain amount of synchronicity where everyone on the team was attracted to the color at the same time. Everyone working on the project had these pink sofas on their Pinterest boards.”

February 2017: Kendall Jenner paints her walls Baker-Miller pink, claiming that it’s the only color that will help suppress her appetite.

February 2017: Drake posts a photo on Instagram wearing a light-pink Stone Island puffer coat. Stone Island says that color is “sold out nearly everywhere.”

February 2017: Greenpoint’s Maha Rose Center for Healing has a rose quartz month, “because people are obsessed with it,” says store manager Ashley Flippin. “There was one day where almost every single person bought rose quartz, and that never happens. I think of it as the gateway crystal. Pink opal also tends to sell well.”

Want 4,000 Instagram Likes?

The Mass Sofa from Lim + Lu. Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

February 2017: Design blog Sight Unseen posts a blush-pink sofa from Lim + Lu on Instagram with the caption “It would be a cliché if it weren’t so damn gorgeous.” The same month, its story on Guillermo Santoma, a Spanish designer with a pink home, goes viral. Sight Unseen co-founder Monica Khemsurov’s current feelings on the shade: “Posts with a pink thing in them perform better. A normal post might get 1,500 likes, and the pink ones get 4,000, so it’s hard to break out of the cycle, because that’s what people want. It’s hard for us to say pink is over, because our readers and followers still love pink, and I still like it in furniture and objects. What we are sick of, though, is pink as a lazy styling crutch. Like, I’m shooting my new shoe, let me just put it on a pink background.”

Pink Sofas You Can Buy Now:

Photo: Courtesy of the vendor

Clockwise from top-left: Plumy by Annie Hiéronimus, from $1,855 at Ligne Roset. Muuto rest sofa, $4,208 at abchome.com. Milo Baughman chrome-and-velvet sofa, $4,500 at comingsoonnewyork.com. Slub Velvet Orianna sofa, $2,098 at anthropologie.com.

Spring 2017: Office-goods brand Poppin introduces blush for spring … So does Property Furniture … Need Supply Co. sends out an email promoting its menswear, saying, “Pink is the new black” … Madewell releases “weathered pink” jumpsuits and “dusty clay” jackets … Away introduces pink luggage … The restaurant abcV opens with pink plates … During New York Design Week, Coming Soon will team up with Sight Unseen for an all-pink show that’ll have the chef Gerardo Gonzalez from Lalito preparing all-pink food inspired by Luis Barragán’s all-pink diet.

Photo: Puma/Instagram

March 2017: Rihanna’s very pink Fenty x Puma silky sneaker (first shown at her SS17 fashion show) quickly sells out.

“That’s So Millennial”

Design editor Wendy Goodman, fashion editor-at-large Amy Larocca, and art critic Jerry Saltz talk pink in trends, kitchens, and the French rococo.

Amy Larocca: Frequently you hear those Pantone predictions and you’re like, Whatever. It doesn’t actually yield any sort of trend that you can feel or see, but in this case it really happened. It was the one time when you’re like, Gosh, Pantone, I see what you’re talking about. It’s fundamentally a great color that had been gendered to the point where it became obsolete, and now that maybe people can relax about that, it’s just a great color. I had a question for you, Jerry: The Virgin Mary, this height of femininity, is always pictured in blue. How did that then transition?

Jerry Saltz: Blue is inward suffering. She’s blue because she’s demonstrative. If you look at Mary beside the cross, she’s a mess; she knows within what’s going to happen. Michelangelo tended to always gown God in pink, which is interesting. The great male patriarchs are often painted wearing pink too. I mostly think of the French rococo when I think of pink because that’s been given a feminine connotation. Because the taste seems more feminine, people tend to not take it as seriously. It’s actually very hard to make this pink color in art. You have to get red to make pink, and it doesn’t come easy, and it’s not common.

Wendy Goodman: What’s interesting about this to me is that when I look at the color known as Millennial Pink — and I’m scouting many more pink interiors lately, particularly in designated rooms like the kitchen — I’m not going, “That’s pink.” Yes, it’s a flattering color — people love to go to restaurants that have pink lighting, because you look so good! — but this particular shade is sort of copping out a little bit because it’s so beige-y that it’s safe. So actually, it’s not really pink.

JS: That’s so millennial.

AL: And here’s the thing: The eye tires, and Millennial Pink is going to go out like everything else.

Poets on This Pink

We sent four wordsmiths a photo of the color and asked them to reply with the first thing that came to mind.

Eileen Myles: genital though not an excited one

Natalie Diaz: Natives are not red any more than African or African-American people are black or Asians are yellow. Most white people, however, are pink, not white. A more accurate color than Millennial Pink might be: white. A shady white, as white can be so often.

Patricia Lockwood: looks like a pig who got scared

Kevin Coval: Kanye’s polo / exposing the fragile / idiocy of the gender binary.

Other Colors of Other Moments

’70s: An advertisement for Frigidaire presented a kitchen with this shade of refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, and stove top. Your friends’ bathrooms had avocado-green toilets, sinks, and baths.

’80s: Mark Woodman, former president of the Color Marketing Group and an interior designer, remembers the era as the great “mauving of America.” It got so big that Delta redesigned its stewardess uniforms in the color.

Early aughts: In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep schools Anne Hathaway on cerulean’s evolution from Oscar de la Renta’s gowns to “some tragic Casual Corner where you no doubt fished it out of some clearance bin.”

Early Obama years: As Woodman puts it, “It became a part of the Zeitgeist that purple is not red state or blue state but a middle ground.” It didn’t hurt that the First Lady wore at least a dozen purple dresses, too.

And what about the Trump years? The Color Marketing Group and Pantone have placed their bets on green. Experts say it’s a natural transition from pink since the two colors are already being used together so often.

*This article appears in the March 20, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.

Why Millennial Pink Refuses to Go Away