Stanley Kubrick Pink

By Neil Cunningham

We made this duchesse satin column gown way back in 1995 and were spellbound by the scorching shade of pink from the French silk house Buche and we had fun trying to describe the colour. Personally it reminded me of old ladies’ lipstick from my childhood or that lurid shade of pink that little girls first paint on their fingernails. It is of course the colour of traditional sticks of peppermint rock you’ll find at a British seaside.

The dress had received some centre spread attention in the Daily Mail and made a You Magazine cover so we hoped it would catch the right eyes (it was hardly a commercial colour) but it was actually 1997 when the wardrobe assistant from the production of Eyes Wide Shut asked to take it with a selection of other gowns back to Kubrick HQ in Hertfordshire for consideration, we hoped, for Nicole Kidman. There’s nothing especially unusual or exciting about this; part of a designer’s working week is sending out gowns to stylists for magazines, celebrity appearances, the odd TV show and the very occasional feature film. Nothing is expected and it’s always a bonus if an outfit is used in something worthwhile.

When the gowns were returned we didn’t get the impression that anything had been used, although the stylist did say that one dress had caught the director’s eye. As a life long Kubrick fan, there’s nothing quite so exciting as hearing a costume designer say “Stanley loved your pink dress…” but I didn’t think much more about it. Everyone knows the production went on for years and Stanley Kubrick died suddenly before the film was released which kind of put the kibosh on the whole three year wait for his fans; the film was finished but the king was dead. And so I was more than tickled pink, when I saw the finished film myself in 1999, to see the dress turn up in the early scenes. It’s more than a blink and you’ll miss it moment (29 seconds to be precise) but the character, Mrs Zeigler, who wears the gown seemed just like one of the wives of rich powerful men that we were used to dressing.

It was the fact that this brilliant salmon pink appeared as a very carefully placed accent colour in the party scene that subsequently interested me. There are a few more hot pink dresses in a room dominated by black dinner suits (even Kidman wears black lace) but this precise shade of pink crops up again, strategically placed, throughout the couple’s apartment. Kubrick’s similar use of this pink in his other films became more obvious too; most notably in The Shining when Jack enters the ghostly ballroom full of guests; the sea of black dinner suits and unobtrusive evening dresses are punctuated dramatically by bright salmon pink velvet sofas. And of course there is the famous scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in the space station where a profusion of brilliant pink armchairs stand out vividly from a stark white background.

Even after devouring tomes of notes over the years on all of Kubrick’s work I haven’t as yet found any mention of the significance of this gorgeous colour in his films or why he likes it so much. The French couture silk house Buche (now closed and sorely missed) named the colour couer (heart) on their swatch card; some refer to it as salmon, or more commonly ‘coral’ but now I always call it Stanley Kubrick pink.

Eyes Wide Shut was released twenty years ago today. Stanley Kubrick:The Exhibition  continues until Sept 17th 2019 at The Design Museum.


As a life-long Kubrick fan there’s nothing quite so exciting as hearing a costume designer say that Stanley loved your pink dress…