How Fashion Director Tiyana Grulovic Learned to Think Pink

With shell and ballet and bubblegum pink on the runways, Tiyana Grulovic faces her pastel phobia and embraces the shade of the season

From left: Carven, Sonia Rykiel, Emilia Wickstead, Simone Rocha. Photos by Anthea Simms and Courtesy of Emilia Wickstead.

From left: Carven, Sonia Rykiel, Emilia Wickstead, Simone Rocha. Photos by Anthea Simms and courtesy of Emilia Wickstead.

I remember the day I swore off pink. Like many of my life-defining moments, it happened at the mall.

Last winter, I was obsessed with pink Kevin Murphy hair chalk. I relished smearing it over my dishevelled ombréd ends and watching the colour appear. I loved looking like I didn’t give a damn while trying a little bit to be pretty.

It backfired hard. While confidently flipping my rosy tips around the sales racks of a store populated by preteens, I was approached by an eager manager who offered me a part-time job. “You just look so cool, we’d love to have you hang out here,” she said earnestly. And then she kept going: “You could totally do this between classes.” I was 30.

While she was visibly creeped out when I revealed my age, it was nothing compared to how I felt for being mistaken for a ragged mall rat instead of the young professional I wanted to be.

Suddenly, my effortlessness felt forced. It also raised some important questions. Was I clinging to my youth? Was I on track to become an augmented Real Housewife of Toronto, squeezing myself into pastel bandage dresses in my 60s? Worse still, was anybody at all going to take me seriously? How could they, when I was covered in all that pink chalk? It instantly went into the trash. Whatever was left of my ombré was swept into the salon assistant’s dustpan. I banned pink altogether.

It was easy to give up, at first. I’ve never really worn a lot of colour—and when I did it usually came in a nail polish bottle. I decided that my usual black, white and grey made a bulletproof uniform for responsible adulthood. Then, within a year, everything changed: I fell in love, bought a house and got a big, new job. The adulthood I had so badly wanted after my mall shaming had magically appeared. The weirdest part was that none of this seemed to overwhelm me. At first. Strangely, it was the unexpected allure of a pastel-pink Carven skirt suit that triggered a breakdown.

From left: Carven, Simone Rocha, Roksanda Illincic. Photos by Anthea Simms

From left: Carven, Simone Rocha, Roksanda Illincic. Photos by Anthea Simms

I met my reckoning at The Room, the cushy designer realm at the Hudson’s Bay flagship in Toronto, this past summer. It was boxy; it made me look like an artisanal marshmallow; it was on sale. It was the polar opposite of the monochromatic self I had spent the past year cultivating—and I loved it.

And so, I began to rethink pink.

I wasn’t alone. The hue was scattered throughout this past spring’s collections, but the message for fall 2013 was louder: Designers made like Maggie Prescott, the formidable fashion editor in the film Funny Face, who devoted an entire issue to it. The strict, ladylike dresses at Roksanda Ilincic and Emilia Wickstead sang soft pink’s praises. Simone Rocha gave the colour a pretty yet futuristic bent with stiff, plasticky fabrics. Sonia Rykiel turned pastels into power suits. And of course at Carven, my pink pusher, Guillaume Henry, continued to charm with dusty versions. Everywhere I looked, the world tempted me with these alternate, girly visions of myself.

“The big aha moment [for pink] came in a coat that was introduced in Raf Simons’ last collection for Jil Sander,” says Isham Sardouk, the chief creative officer at Stylesight, a New York–based trend-forecasting agency. The man knows pink: He was formerly a design director at Victoria’s Secret.

“That pink coat was stunning, just so beautiful, so pure,” Sardouk continues, adding that designers have been smitten ever since. “There was nothing ridiculous about it…It looked more like a soft cocoon, there was this protection.”

I bought the Carven suit, and also, shattering any resolve I might have had, a pair of pink jeans. I felt weak. I wondered if the staggering changes in my life had manifested themselves into some sort of colour crisis.

The writer's Carven jacket

The writer’s Carven jacket. Photo by Daniel Harrison

I turn to Roseanna Roberts, a colour trend forecaster, for guidance. “Pink combines the passion of red with the purity of white, which really gives it a gentler energy,” she tells me. “It’s such a positive colour just by nature; it’s warm, it’s a sign of hope.” She points out that those positive connotations led to pink’s entrenchment in the fight against breast cancer. Yet when I think pink, I still think Barbie. How can I trust a woman who wore pink glitter into space?

I asked Roberts whether pink would ever be popular in the workplace, and she assures me perceptions have changed. “I think for a long time women didn’t wear it because they didn’t want to be seen as young and naïve. But now you can be [assertive] and you can be soft. This isn’t the ’80s.”

Maybe something in this trend is related to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, which cultural theorists explained meant that women were so tired of taking control on all fronts that they sought release in being submissive in bed (or at least reading about it). While I’m not there yet, given that we stride around multi-tasking to get through our power- charged days, I could see how a colour that speaks of baby animals and princesses could appeal as responsibilities mount. But it can’t look too retrograde.

Women like Nicki Minaj have taken up the gauntlet thrown by Pink, the pop star who made it her signature, to subvert the shade, pairing its prettiness with a don’t-mess-with-me attitude. I look at power players like Michelle Obama and Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s unashamedly girly CEO, who don’t sacrifice their femininity and still manage to be taken seriously—even when, on occasion, wearing pink.

With that in mind, I test Roberts’ theory and wear my Carven jacket to work—doubling down by tossing it over my pink jeans. I ask my colleagues if I look like a boss. One of them wonders whether I’m attending a PTA meeting … in Texas. Hmmm.

“I think that colour is always a matter of context,” says Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. Given my colleague’s reaction, I ask if she believes there are still negative connotations associated with the hue. Eiseman sees “a more open attitude now,” pointing out that the colour’s positive, youthful attributes are consistently appealing. “Looking youthful is not reserved for youth. I think that’s a frame of mind regardless of age. [Wearing pink means] you’re still embracing that idealistic youthful mindset.”

It’s true. Even in the most tumultuous times, I’m an optimist. Inspired to look through my new rose-coloured wardrobe, I begin to see my new responsibilities (a staff to manage, ten- ants to appease, neglected lawns to mow) as an opportunity.

“You know,” Eiseman tells me soothingly, “There are days when we instinctively reach for something because it speaks to us.” I think my impulse is reminding me that if being an adult is weighty, it also has new freedoms—like getting away with pink.

Screen shot 2013-08-19 at 10.53.24 AM
Courtesy of Corbis, Paramount/ Photofest, Getty Images

Courtesy of Corbis, Paramount/ Photofest, Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images, Everett Collection, Max Abadian

Courtesy of Getty Images, Everett Collection, Max Abadian