Like a scene straight out of the 1957 musical comedy Funny Face, in which a Diana Vreelandish fashion editor exhorts women to “Think pink!” as an antidote to everything down, dreary, dull, depressing, dismal, and deadly, the Fall 2021 digital runways were awash in rosy color. Take your medicine in the form of a Pepto Bismol pink power suit from Thebe Magugu, a bubblegum puffed-sleeve dress from Carolina Herrera, or a cerise marabou-trimmed jacket from Gucci.
“Color is life, joy, fun!” says Donatella Versace, who sent out a trio of A-line minis paired with tone-on-tone monogrammed tights in fuchsia, lemon, and coral. “I wanted the three looks to go out together to make a statement. We’re looking at the future with a new sense of positivity. As we slowly get our lives back, the world should celebrate.”
Can we indeed dress ourselves happy as we start to emerge from our pandemic chrysalis? A paper published last year in the journal Psychological Science, co-authored by a team of researchers at 36 academic institutions, revealed certain universal color-emotion associations. In the study, 4,598 participants from 30 countries on six continents speaking 22 languages were asked to pair 20 emotions (e.g., joy, pleasure, relief, regret, sadness, and anger) with 12 colors. The scientists then calculated the average probability of each color-emotion association and identified the most prominent among the 240 possible pairings, which included joy with, yes, pink, as well as the other colors highlighted in the Versace collection, yellow and orange.
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Color is life, joy, fun!Donatella Versace
The study did not test whether participants actually felt more joyful when they wore the colors they associated with joy. But in a 2015 study published in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers in Switzerland asked students at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne to watch video clips of actors portraying “panic fear” and “elated joy” and to choose the color of shirt most appropriate for the emotion. They found that participants selected brighter, more saturated, and warmer colors for joyful expressions than for fearful expressions. Colors along the red-yellow spectrum were deemed more appropriate for joy and cyan-bluish hues for fear. The conclusion was that clothing color may be used to convey emotional intentions—that we might choose brighter colors “when aiming to convey positive affect.”
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Loewe stylist Benjamin Bruno apparently got the memo. Last winter, as Covid-19 cases in Europe surged, he started turning up at the studio wearing cheery, colorful T-shirts to boost his own mood. That inspired the label’s creative director, Jonathan Anderson, to begin thinking about designing pieces that might offer people a similar kind of much-needed emotional uplift, like the buttercup-yellow nappa-leather coat and oversize tangerine suit with contrasting stripes in the fall collection. Anderson also made a range of optimistically hued accessories, including booties with sunray details and a supersize pouch bag that looks ready to play the role of an emotional-support animal. “This collection is a big departure for me. We’ve never done something this colorful before,” he explains. “I was thinking of this idea of ‘color therapy’ in a literal sense: I wanted to delve into a really out-there color palette and make it feel sensual, even salacious.”
Stella McCartney also took a trip over the rainbow with a collection that leveraged her expertise in sustainable materials like forest-friendly viscose and PVC-free paillettes to create ruched bandage dresses, sequined going-out tops, and other glad rags. “It’s all about escapism and being able to blend fantasy and reality together,” McCartney says. “These are conscious pieces that reflect a collective desire for joy, opulence, and glamour. There’s so much more color injected in this season with the sunshine yellow and rich purple that I hope will inspire everyone to dress up and go out to the club again.”
And then I said to myself, ‘Okay, Aaron, you can choose to stay in this dark space or you can will yourself into some joy and some lightness and some happiness and some optimism.’Aaron Potts
Other collections evoked the glamour of Old Hollywood. “I wanted to create a Technicolor fantasy in deep hues and saturated colors—something dynamic and cinematic,” says Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott, who made a mini movie titled Jungle Red after the It color in George Cukor’s 1939 comedy-drama The Women. In Scott’s reboot of the film’s fashion-show sequence (the only scene Cukor shot in color), flame-haired model Karen Elson is a vision in head-to-toe marigold, complete with a wide-brimmed sun hat. She appears alongside an all-star cast that includes Hailey Bieber, Precious Lee, and Shalom Harlow and features vivid brushstroke eveningwear and a satin minidress embellished with a feathery pink flamingo.
Meanwhile, A. Potts designer Aaron Potts channeled happy childhood memories of a very Singin’ in the Rain raincoat. “When I started doing the collection, the yellow was really going to just be a highlight,” says Potts of its standout hue, a color he calls sunburst, seen on fluid shapes modeled by Alvin Ailey dancers. “And then I said to myself, ‘Okay, Aaron, you can choose to stay in this dark space or you can will yourself into some joy and some lightness and some happiness and some optimism.’” If we hope to spark joy this fall, then we may indeed want to, as Funny Face’s fashion editor once put it, “Banish the black, burn the blue, and bury the beige.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.