In just over two years, flamingos have soared from the catwalks of Milan to the wardrobes and walls of urban hipsters to the aisles of Nordstrom, IKEA, Crate & Barrel, Target and Britain’s John Lewis department stores. Flamingos now adorn everything from $1,495 Givenchy dresses to $40 shower curtains. Google search interest for “flamingo” hit an all-time high in May.
“Flamingos are the kale of style right now,” says Vicki Psarias, founder of the British lifestyle blog “Honest Mum.”
The flamingo’s journey from kitsch to cool illustrates how consumer trends emerge. Flamingos nestled in the happy middle of a Venn diagram of three hot trends: they’re pink, they’re tropical and they happen to be birds. Once there, they quickly grew, with help from a steady diet of celebrity Instagram posts, Pinterest pages and style blogs.
“The ability of social networks to launch, broadcast and instantly reinforce the credibility of a trend has accelerated the old process of trend development by an almost incalculable factor,” says Ryan Mathews, a consultant and futurist. “The path is the same, but the ride is a whole lot faster and bumpier.”
The flamingo’s ride began way back in 1957, when a young graphic artist with the fitting name of Donald Featherstone created a plastic pink flamingo for Union Products, which Sears offered in its catalog for $2.76 a pair. Suburbanites snatched them up as lawn ornaments, and they soon became “widely reviled as the dregs of bad taste,” as a New York Times story put it when Union Products closed in 2006.
Then, in June 2014, a rebirth-thanks to American fashion designer Marc Jacobs, who put flamingos all over a Spring 2015 collection that included a black satin embroidered flamingo bomber jacket. Other labels, such as Bottega Veneta and Gucci, followed suit, and when Prada unveiled a flamingo-themed fragrance in 2015, a spark was ignited.
Fashionistas flocked to the bird-“flamingo” derives from the Spanish word for “flame-colored.” Celebrities then applied rocket fuel: At Taylor Swift’s 2015 Fourth of July party, the pop star and her Instagram-friendly pals, like model Gigi Hadid, frolicked on inflatable flamingos.
Retailers, desperate for a sure thing amid lackluster sales, jumped on the trend that same year. Target decided to feature flamingos in its new Pillowfort brand-sheets, towels and other accessories for kids’ bedrooms. The items did so well that the retailer quickly loaded up the bargain bins at the front of the store with flamingo napkins, string-up lights and water carafes. Target now offers more than 100 flamingo products.
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By Mattew Boyle
For Denver Post, August 2017