What is it about red that attracts people? The hottest of all the warm-spectrum colors, red is emotionally intense and physically stimulating, the color of fire, energy, strength and vitality. Red motivates, red stirs the blood, commands attention—it even raises human metabolism. Red represents passion, power, love, danger and glamour. Celebrities saunter down red carpets; politicians and business magnates don red power ties; rich playboys cruise around in cherry-red Ferraris. Joyous revelers paint the town in this selfsame color. Red is high visibility—which is why fire engines, stop signs and stoplights are represented by it. It’s also the color most often chosen by extroverts. In short, red is not for the shy and retiring.
Red makes a splashy statement throughout the calendar year. From romantic valentines in February to summer’s ripe berries and flowers to the rust red leaves of autumn to Santa’s festive holiday get-up, red makes the rounds in high style.
Culturally, red has potent symbolism all over the world. In China, red represents happiness and good fortune; brides wear red dresses, and special red packets are used during the Chinese New Year to wrap monetary gifts. Both the Greeks and the Hebrews associated the color with love. In India, where it denotes marriage and purity, women wear red saris when they wed. In Central Africa, Ndembu warriors rub themselves with red during celebrations, since the color symbolizes life and health. The first major chakra. or energy center, of the body (called Muladhara in Sanskrit) corresponds to survival, instinct and sexuality and is represented by the color red.
Red has quite a colorful history in the world of fashion as well. Many centuries ago, ancient Mexicans produced a brilliant red dye from the cochineal insect, which lived on the cactus plant. In the early 16th century, the dye was “discovered” by Spanish conquistadors in the Aztec marketplace; it was shipped back to Europe, where no one had ever seen such a gorgeous shade of crimson. Because it was such an elusive and expensive color to produce, red was only worn by the very wealthy, and this continued to be the case for centuries. King Louis XIV of France was a fan, habitually painting the heels of his shoes bright red (some 350 years before shoe designer Christian Louboutin’s scarlet soles!). This heel-painting trend caught on with the rest of the nobles of his time. In some countries, like Japan, wearing red was reserved for people of high status; it was forbidden for commoners to wear it.
In her autobiography, D.V. (a must read, by the way!), Diana Vreeland—the 20th century’s most influential arbiter of fashion and taste—said: “Red is the great clarifier—bright, cleansing, and revealing. It makes all other colors beautiful. I can’t imagine becoming bored with red—it would be like becoming bored with the person you love.”
**For more on the fascinating history of red, read A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, by Amy Butler Greenfield.