“When in doubt, wear RED.” - Bill BlassValentine’s Day is upon us. Everything red, pink and sparkly has begun to turn up in window displays, flower shops, Walgreens and in clothing stores. As we all well know, everywhere you look someone will be wearing some shade of red around V-Day.
Red has always been considered the color of love. It positively signifies passion, energy, triumph, happiness, fertility, purity, good luck and strength. But red can also be negative, symbolizing sin, blood, dnger, fear and war.
Red is oft-times associated with Satan and naughtiness (think pitch forks, devil ears and red-light districts). On the other hand, red is the color of the Roman Catholic Church and is associated with divinity.
Red is one of the first colors have ever been used by humans. A cave called Pech Merle in southern France, houses some of the most famous examples of ancient cave art. The drawings date back between 25,000 to 16,000 years ago.
Red can have many meanings. The most important thing to remember about red is that it’s the color that most represents the spectrum of human feeling.
For centuries, women (and men) have been donning the color red. An individual wearing the color is seen as sexy, confident, and witty. Red, a color that can literally stop traffic, has been adored by many, and embodies the very pulse and excitement of fashion.
Today in fashion, color is a tool of seasonal representation and fun. In the past, color was used to represent status and craftsmanship.
As early as 1321, Brazilwood, found in the East Indies, was being used to produce a bright red color. In Europe, the madder plant’s roots were used to produce a ruby red color. Central America is home to the Cochineal, which is a dye that comes from a little bug found in a Mexican cactus (which is the same thing used to create food coloring). These dyes were traded among the wealthiest of individuals because of the time it took to make, and the labor it took to acquire these goods.
In 1464, Pope Paul II discovered the color “cardinal purple” (“cardinal red”), which was really a crimson red color derived from the kermes insect, a cousin of the cochineal.
In 17th century France, red was a color of power. Only the rich and powerful could afford to wear the color red.
According to Joan DeJean, French Historian, Louis XIV adored the color red. He loved it so much that the heels of his shoes were a vibrant scarlet color. Louis XIV even declared that only nobility could wear red-heeled shoes. The painted heel showed that nobles never got their shoes dirty. (Is anyone else thinking about Christian Louboutin yet?)
The British army quickly followed suit by using the cochineal to dye wool tunics for which they became famously referred to as the “redcoats”. This red also became the standard of foxhunter’s coats, known as hunting pinks even though the color was scarlet red.Today, the color red is still used by designers, writers, actors, filmmakers and artists.
One of the most iconic uses of the color red is at any of the film, TV or music award shows: the Red Carpet. The Red Carpet symbolizes everything previously mentioned about red, especially excitement, energy and success. It is an indication for a time of celebration within film, TV and music communities all over the world.
Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani first used a poppy-red color for a dress in his first collection. It soon became his signature color. Valentino red is a primary red with notes of deep orange that add impact and intensify tone. Valentino’s love for red is traced back to when he was a young man visiting Barcelona, Spain, where he saw an opera in which all the characters wore red. In an interview with The Sunday Times in 2012, Valentino said, “It was at that moment I realized that, after black and white, there is no color more beautiful or flattering to women than red.”
In 2014, Dolce & Gabbana released their 2013/2014 Fall/Winter collection that was influenced by the Catholic Church. According to the designers, the Byzantine-era mosaics from Sicily’s Monreale Cathedral were the source of inspiration for the collection. The designs included saints, kings and angels gilded and surrounded by jewels. Some designs were more played-down, muted like a fresco that has survived centuries of time. The models adorned crowns as well. Also included were designs in lace of black, white and red. The show ended in a finale of cardinal red dresses with jewels and lace and topped with the gold crowns.
Our last honorable mention will be Christian Louboutin and his famous red-soled shoes (much like our friend Louis XIV). In the 1980s, Louboutin studied under Roger Vivier, the man who invented the stiletto. He then went on to design women’s shoes for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Maud Frizon. Louboutin helped to bring the stiletto back into fashion in the 1990s and 2000s. His goal has always been to “make a woman look sexy, beautiful, to maker her legs look as long as possible”. What better way to do that than with the color red?
In an interview on NPR, Rebecca Stevens, curator of the exhibition Red, 2007, noted that, “a textile is not dyed red by chance. No you use red for a specific reason whether it’s for love, for fertility, for happiness – you made it red on purpose.” Red is never an accident.
Red is an elegant and exotic color meant to be worn by those who want to stand out and exude confidence. I imagine myself wearing red now and thinking like Stevens. “There are no accidents, especially not the color red.”