Red: The Most Primary Color Dominates This Season
It represents both love and war, royalty and revolution. It was coveted and banned. And this season red is as seductive as ever.
To better understand how the color works on our psychology and in our wardrobe, we dove into its history and spoke to Nordstrom fashion forecaster Merrill Greene (yes, but she’s an expert on all colors) about how and why we’re seeing so much red right now.
Historian Michel Pastoureau writes that red was “the first color humans mastered, fabricated, reproduced.” Red ochre appears in civilization’s earliest cave paintings, found in Spain and France. “Red takes on a lot of symbolism,” explains Merrill. “It brings a lot of attention to oneself and allows one to be seen in the world. It’s the most visible color.” Because of that, Merrill believes it represents “a primal life force and magical power in religion.”
Red lipstick dates to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, where the ruby cosmetic was made from crushed gemstones and (deadly) lead. Cleopatra’s custom formula added pulverized insects. “There’s power to the pulpy, erotic use of red,” says Merrill.
In ancient Rome, warriors and brides both wore red, the color of blood but also of love and fertility. Modern Indian and Chinese brides will still don crimson for good fortune. “The bravest way to wear it is head-to-toe, monochromatic red,” advises Merrill. “It’s the most advanced.” That’s a lot of luck!
King Henry VIII passed sumptuary laws preventing anyone below the station of knight from wearing red. Scarlet robes remain royal ceremonial garb for British coronations and for Parliament. “We see an expansion of red. But more and more there’s power in the way it’s mixed and used,” Merrill says.
Well before Christian Louboutin, in 17th-century France, King Louis XIV popularized red-heeled boots that he permitted only among his court. “A fabulous pair of red boots or a bag—the shock of an accent accessory—could be a power play,” suggests Merrill. So take a cue from the Sun King for your shoes this season.
Valentino Spring 2018
Since 1959, Valentino Garavani has created dresses in his signature shade—Rosso Valentino, a trademark combination of magenta, yellow and black—for every one of his collections. Pierpaolo Piccioli continues the tradition today. “It’s speaking to where we are right now,” says Merrill of red’s renewal. “Politically, this desire to feel forceful in response to what’s happening in the world. Red is really the power of femininity—charged, forceful femininity.”