NEW YORK — The color pink conjures up many things.

In addition to carnations, prom dresses and legwarmers, it harkens to the personal downside of the tough economy (pink slip), a classic cartoon and movie (“The Pink Panther”) and a pop star (Pink), not to mention Pinky Lee or Pinky Tuscadero.

This spring, though, vendors are also looking for versions of the hue to conjure up green at the cashregister.

“Right now, it’s the color for spring,” said Lynne Cote, president of Jones Apparel Group’s moderate sportswear business, including the Gloria Vanderbilt, Bandolino, Norton McNaughton and LEI brands. “Everyone’s leading off spring with the color pink, we have it in quite a few of our brands.”

Bandolino, the most updated of Jones’ moderate offerings, is kicking off spring deliveries with a black-and-pink story incorporating pink dots, trims and white accents.

“People are just ready for it,” Cote said. “Pink hasn’t been on the scene for a while in a major story.”

Part of the color’s strength seems to lie in its malleability. While it’s often perceived as soft and girlie, it can take on a sexy slant when paired with black. Pink also mixes well with basics such as black, white and khaki, making it is an extremely salable color.

“Pink definitely retailed this past spring, and we think it was only the tip of the iceberg,” said Kathy Bradley, merchandise manager for misses’ and junior sportswear at the Doneger Group buying and consulting firm. “It’s bright, it’s happy, it’s flattering against most women’s complexions and it’s a good way to update a wardrobe through items. Women are not intimidated by pink and we like all shades. We’re liking the softer ones and the bright shades.”

This spring, Liz Claiborne Inc.’s various lines, including Ellen Tracy, City DKNY and its signature collection, will also make use of a wide spectrum of pinks, said Anne Cashill, vice president of corporate design and merchandising.

“We’ve been in a pink cycle,” Cashill said. “It seems like it started coming on pretty strong last spring and held on all summer. Color is the first thing that draws a customer to your rack, your fixture and there is a certain feeling of optimism with the color pink. It’s an uplifting color, certainly in January. It has all those feelings of spring and tulips and flowers.”Susan Metzger, group president of Jones New York, noted, “What has happened — even on the runway designer collections — is that everyone really believes in color, and the color that really seems to be emerging is feminine and pretty. We feel very strong about color back to neutrals, so there’s a balance. Basing it back to neutrals is what makes it look more modern.”

The lighter shade of red is also thriving in the cooler weather.

“Pink is very, very hot, even now,” said Bernard Holtzman, chief executive officer and designer of Harvé Benard, referring to the current season. “It was quite a surprise to us because normally we don’t run much pink in the fall. We’re in a girlie mood right now, it’s kind of flirtatious, but innocent at the same time. Plus, all the magazines are saying it’s hot, so you have a stamp of authenticity.”

The firm’s done well selling pink goods to Stein Mart, including cashmere blend jackets and outerwear, he said. “Anything I had in pink, we had to run through the entire warehouse and give it to them,” Holtzman added.

Neva Turi, vice president of merchandising for Kellwood Co.’s Sag Harbor line, said, “Pink is always a staple in our line, pretty much every single season.”

English lavenders and plums, which are forms of pink, have sold well for Sag Harbor this fall. As holidays approach, the line will shift toward softer, paler pinks and then toward pink blossoms and flamingo pinks for spring and summer.

“It used to be more of an accent color that people would maybe wear in sweaters, but now we’re even booking it head to toe,” said Turi.

There are new pink entrants, as well. In August, Kellwood Co. launched a line of fine-gauge knit tops called Pink Poodle, which features the hue.

Next year will also mark the 40th anniversary of “The Pink Panther” starring Peter Sellers. MGM is celebrating the flick with a marketing blitz targeted at 25- to 54-year-olds, which includes women’s and men’s shirts, as well as ties, boxer shorts and cuff links by Thomas Pink. The artist Shag is providing the overall feel for the campaign, which will cross into multiple product categories.Great success, though, even for a color, entails great risks.

“Pink is a hard color sometimes to kill,” said Haysun Hahn, director of trend forecasting service Futuremode. “It’s the color that keeps selling longer than it should and so it stays in the color palette longer than it should.”

On the flip side, though, it is a color that merchandisers often look to add to a line.

Pink has already hit its peak in the cycle, she said, noting the high end of the market has moved on to more complex versions of pink, with beige, coral and brown mixed in, while the mainstream has fully embraced the hue.

So what’s next?

“Pink will romance those neons into people’s color palettes,” said Hahn. “Pink is a great gate color into the neon.”

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