Shocking Pink

Known to Winston and Clementine Churchill as “the Imbroglio,” Daisy Fellowes was a very shocking woman indeed. Born in Paris in the dog days of the nineteenth century, she was the only daughter of a French aristocrat and Isabelle-Blanche Singer, the sewing machine heiress. In the 1920s and ’30s she was a notorious, transatlantic bad girl: dosing her ballet teacher with cocaine, editing the French Harper’s Bazaar, carrying on a succession of high-profile affairs, and throwing parties to which she only invited pairs of mortal enemies. She was, according to an artist acquaintance, “the beautiful Madame de Pompadour of the period, dangerous as an albatross”; to Mitchell Owens, a writer for the New York Times, she was “a Molotov cocktail in a Mainbocher suit.” 

One of her numerous vices was shopping, and it was one of her purchases from Cartier that unleashed this scandalous shade of pink onto the world. The bright pink Tête de Bélier (“Ram’s Head”), a 17.47-carat diamond, had once belonged to Russian royalty. Fellowes wore it one day when meeting one of her favourite designers, the inventive, surrealist couturier Elsa Schiaparelli (Fellowes was one of the only two women brave enough to wear the infamous high-heel hat designed in collaboration with Salvador Dalí. Schiaparelli herself was the other.) It was love at first sight. “The color flashed in front of my eyes,” Schiaparelli later wrote. “Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life giving, like all the lights and the birds and the fish in the world together, a color of China and Peru but not of the West—a shocking color, pure and undiluted.”

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1; Daisy Fellowes, picture by Cecil Beaton

2; An illusionistic print resembling tears in the fabric by 1938 Dali and Schiaparelli  

3; Collection by Galleria de la vie de paris, Gift of the children and grandchildren of Daisy Fellowes.
This iconic garment from the 'Cosmic' winter collection of 1938–1939 belonged to the famously elegant Mrs Reginald Fellowes, a wearer of the most extravagant Schiaparelli creations, including Salvador Dalí's 'shoe hat' ensemble. A strikingly theatrical effect is obtained by the contrast between the simplicity of the front and the luxuriance of the embroidery on the back. The colour reminds us of Elsa Schiaparelli's predilection for 'shocking' pink; indeed, she titled her biography Shocking Life. 

4; Elsa Schiaparelli's Private Albuml: An elaborately illustrated, highly personal look at one of the most prominent fashion figures of the 20th century


Mae West 

She immediately incorporated it into the packaging for her first perfume, released in 1937. The bottle, designed by the surrealist painter Leonor Fini, was modeled after the voluptuous torso of the actress Mae West, and came in a distinctive hot-pink case. Its name, of course, was “Shocking.” The color became something of a touchstone for the designer, cropping up again and again in her collections and even in her own interior decoration: her granddaughter, the model and actress Marisa Berenson, remembers Schiaparelli’s bed being covered with heart- shaped, shocking pink pillows. Age has not dimmed the color’s appeal. In the brash 1980s Christian Lacroix often paired it with bright red; most, however, use it only sparingly. A notable exception can be found in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In 1953 the costume designer William Travilla was urgently called to the set.

Marilyn Monroe

The filmmakers were panicking about its star, Marilyn Monroe, as a nude calendar featuring the actress had just been released and the press was in a slavering uproar. The studio decided her assets needed to be more jealously guarded. “I made a very covered dress,” Travilla later wrote, “a very famous pink dress with a big bow in the back.” It is this outfit Monroe wears when singing the tune that helped seal her place in Hollywood’s firmament, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” No doubt Daisy Fellowes, by then a determinedly soignée 63-year-old, wholeheartedly agreed.

Text from Shocking pink, page 126/127, The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair.
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