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Red is the new pink: Why the Barbiecore trend is being replaced

By Barbara Russ


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Image: Altuzarra FW23, Area FW23, Huishan Zhang FW23 via Launchmetrics Spotlight

It's not just on the runways. Rihanna's now-iconic halftime performance at the Super Bowl was drenched in it and the red carpet is also living up to its name this awards season. Why is the whole world seeing red right now?

Red seems to be everywhere at the moment.

The clues: Rapper Doja Cat sat in the front row at the show of the fashion house Schiaparelli in a blood red ensemble with thousands of crystals. Artists Sam Smith and Kim Petras caused a stir at the Grammy Awards with a group performance completely in red. And, of course, the red boots by MSCHF. The conclusion: Red is definitely having a moment. But why?

With red front and center, it upstages another hue that seemed ubiquitous until recently: barbie-core pink. And while the world is still eagerly awaiting director Greta Gerwig's Barbie movie, the question is: Has pink grown up in the meantime?

The catwalks are unmistakably red

Red was a constant on the catwalks for the fall/winter23 season. The color stood out prominently at New York Fashion Week as well as in Copenhagen, Milan, and Paris. At Ganni, handbags came in numerous shades of red along with sequin dresses, Saks Potts wrapped models head-to-toe in red leather, and in New York, all creatives and labels, from Marc Jacobs to Gabriela Hearst and Marni, experimented with red snakeskin looks, sequin dresses and fake-fur coats. Hermès drenched whole looks in oxblood and crimson, and at Chanel, red was the only notable exception to a sea of black and white.

Image: Saks Potts H/W23, Laquan Smith H/W23, Ganni H/W23, Gabriela Hearst H/W23 via Launchmetrics Spotlight

”Entering a red era, the palette has overtaken barbie-core pinks at New York Fashion Week and is now one of the defining colors of the city,” assesses Karis Munday, analyst at the global retail data provider Edited.

Red is slowly catching on in footwear, too: After Rihanna's Super Bowl moment, Munday observed a rise of 4000 percent in Google Trend searches for the red MM6 Maison Margiela x Salomon low sneakers the singer wore. In the U.K., she reports, the sneaker sold out within only two days after her performance. In the U.S. it took four, despite the shoe being in stock since November.

And then, of course, there's the 'It' shoe of the moment: the 'Big Red Boot' by MSCHF. A boundary-pushing shoe that the artist-collective itself describes as “cartoon boots for a cool 3D world.” Anyone wearing these $350 shoes looks like they just escaped a video game. Needless to say, these ruby-red ‘slippers’ created a hype on Instagram and sold out on the brand's website.

Burberry's collection for the Year of the Rabbit. Image: burberry

Red conquers luxury fashion, too

Edited also observed a steep rise of the color red in the luxury market. New goods in red made significant gains across genders in apparel over the past three months, where a 34 percent increase in womenswear and 55 percent increase in menswear could be seen compared to the same period last year. “A big contributing factor were the 'Year of the Rabbit' collections by Dior and Burberry,” adds Munday.

Aside from the luxury fashion market, red items in women's fashion are also up 49 percent year-over-year in the last three months. The color red has led to a 69 percent increase in women's fashion sales and a 210 percent increase in men's fashion sales in the first two weeks of February compared to the same period in January. Accessories were a major factor for all genders, especially heart motifs. Sales of red, heart-shaped accessories, for example, were up 415 percent over 2022, especially for Shein, according to Munday's analysis.

Image: Pantone; New York Fashion Week Colour Trend Report AW23

In their 'New York Fashion Week Colour Trend Report FW23', Pantone speaks of “cheerful colors.” But the kind of deep red called 'Viva Magenta' that dominates 2023 is not exactly a cheerful one. It is too blood-like, too fleshy, and too dark for that. A happy red, quite honestly, wouldn't fit into current times. Radiant Barbie pink was a hopeful kick-starting color into a cheerful post-pandemic era that never came, thanks to the war in Ukraine. And it's promise clearly belongs with the Dopamine Dressing notion of last year.

A bold magenta

”Viva Magenta offers us the assurance and motivation we need to weather long-term disruptive events,” Pantone writes, adding, “Three years deep into a pandemic, facing a war, an unstable economy, social unrest, supply chain breakdowns, and mounting climate change, we need to heal. And still, we need to find the motivation to continue. Here, Viva Magenta cloaks us in both power and grace, and sends us out into the world with the verve we’ve yearned for.” Verve could well be replaced with “vivacity”. It reminds us of living wholeheartedly, taking a bold, a full-blooded approach to things, and taking our rose-tinted glasses off.

Image: Viva Magenta, Pantone Color of the Year 2023. Pantone.

'Viva Magenta', then, is a hue that oscillates between fleshy organic matter and flashy virtuality, which is why Pantone accompanies it with a whole 'Magentaverse' of several shades of red. A real Rorschachtest for the eye. Because, in fact, the color magenta does not exist on the color spectrum, making it an extra-spectral color, meaning it has no wavelength. According to the BBC, we don’t exactly know why, but physiologically, our brain 'creates' magenta because it is bad at dealing with ambivalences.

That's exactly what makes the color so acutely ‘trendy’. After all, complex problems and ambivalences define today’s life, yet many people still look for quick and easy solutions. Such black-and-white thinking might have been appropriate in a long-gone bipolar world. In today's complex multipolar world order, much more mental agility is needed. Oversimplified dichotomies, like that of 'male' and 'female', or 'virtual' and 'physical', are a thing of the past. In order to understand the world of today, the brain has to cope with numerous ambivalences and gray areas. The perfect moment for a bold magenta-red.