They’re dressed almost head-to-toe in pink feathers, they’re rather leggy and they wear make-up. No wonder they hold a certain appeal in the fashion world.
Flamingos currently instore at Larks: (l-r) Umbrella ; Necklaces £10-£14.99; Brooch £6; Cardigan £35
The flamingo, the strikingly pink unipedal wading bird is celebrated for its exotic looks. The name derives from ‘flamengo’, Portugese/Spanish for ‘flame-coloured’ – their distinctive pink hue ranging from light pink to bright red is actually due to the aqueous bacteria and beta-carotene pigments derived from their food supply.
Not only does the flamingo flirt with up to 136 moves in its courtship displays, it also uses make-up to prettify its plumage for the opposite sex. The preening oil flamingos use to waterproof their feathers is caked on just a bit more in mating season (especially by females of the species), effectively being applied as a cosmetic – the rich carotenoid pigments in the waxy substance brightening and enhancing that signature pink hue.
The appeal of the flamingo has long been universal – not just a pretty face. In ancient Rome, flamingos were prized – their tongues being a gourmet delicacy. Andean miners once killed them for their fat, believing it to be a cure for tuberculosis. On a more appreciative note, the flamingo has status as the national bird of the Bahamas and is held just as estimable in the US, but whether that can be considered high or low esteem is a matter of taste… meet the phoenicopteris ruber plasticus (as dubbed by creator Don Featherstone)…
The infamous pink plastic flamingo was created by Featherstone in 1957 for the plastics company Union Products Inc; in Leominster, Massachusetts, modelled after photographs of the birds he had seen in National Geographic magazine and channelling a phenomenon at the time for ‘Floridiana’. Gaining popular status after selling millions over the years, the iconic suburban lawn ornament is the US equivalent of the garden gnome – at once whimsical, yet gloriously tacky. The plastic flamingo now stands, one-leggedly, as the height (or depth) of twentieth century American kitsch. Like the gnome, it now straddles the boundary of good and bad taste, low and high art, transitioning from a working-class yard accessory to an ironic statement piece. The joke stretches even further – getting ‘flamingoed’ or ‘flocked’ has become a popular fundraising prank in suburban US neighborhoods.
Making a star appearance in John Waters’ notorious ‘Pink Flamingos’ in 1972 as the classic trailer accessory, the film immortalised the plastic three foot icon and cemented its cult status as an emblem of kitsch Americana – with one long pink leg firmly placed in low culture camp and the other in high camp…
Flamingos currently instore at Larks: (l-r) ‘Welcome’ Doormat £9.99; Scarf £10; Cardigan £34