Recently I received an invitation from Initiatives in Art and Culture to attend their 13th annual fashion conference in New York—RED: Allure, Style, and Significance. The scope of the itinerary was impressive and it got me thinking about the impact of the color in my life and in my design work. Red was always a big part of the Latin household I grew up in. I remember vividly my grandmother's fiery auburn hair and long polished red nails. Mi abuela also used Maja products, which featured a scarlet clad Flamenco dancer on their packaging. This symbol of the culture was also made into a doll, which became a permanent fixture in my grandmother's bathroom. I can also recall exciting flashes of crimson skirts as the salsa was danced at family functions.
Perhaps having such vivid associations was why, when I was first studying fashion, I avoided using the color in my designs. I was young and worried about being boxed in creatively. I did not want to be known as the designer of cha-cha dresses. Thankfully as I grew as a person and as a designer I learned how important the color was in communicating so many different things. I saw it woven into Scottish tartans, as well as serving as a color symbolic of the sun for the Japanese. Even beyond cultural ties, there was a broad spectrum of ways in which red could be interpreted.
Childhood provided a variety of connections to the color. In fairy tales and comic books a red cape implied safety and security. Ruby slippers and red toe shoes were integral parts of storytelling in the film version of the Wizard of Oz (in the book the slippers were silver), and the film based on Han Christian Anderson's story The Red Shoes. Christian Louboutin's trademark red sole has a magic of its own for connoisseurs of luxury footwear.
A red by any other name is still as striking, regardless of whether you call it pomegranate, vermillion, cherry, madder, Bordeaux, or fire-engine red. The fashion references are plentiful. For celebrated fashion designer Valentino and unparalleled icon of style Diana Vreeland, red was a signature. Audrey Hepburn in red, gracefully gliding down marble steps, crying out, "Take the picture, take the picture!" in the film Funny Face is a powerful reference point for most fashion aficionados. Another vintage fashion flick, The Women, uses Jungle Red nail polish as a plot device. To this day red hair, red lipstick, and red lacquered nails are always in style.
"Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick." Gwyneth Paltrow
Red is used to evoke and provoke. It is primal—the color of fire and blood.
Red seduces—Lolita. It forbids—the Tango.
Red tempts—the apple. It instills fear—political propaganda.
Red arrests—stop signs and traffic lights.
Red identifies—landmarks. It is part of ritual—the church.
Red has a voice—in florigraphy (the language of flowers) red roses are the mark of true love.
Red is funny too! Red rubber noses. Lucille Ball's red henna hair. And getting back to my upbringing there is Spanish television's El Chapulín Colorado.
Red even cares—red ribbons and the (Join)RED Campaign promoting AIDS awareness and fundraising. The red poppy has been worn on Remembrance Day since 1920 to commemorate soldiers who have died in war.
In any design process, the spark behind the choice of a particular shade of red is only the beginning. With every unique source of inspiration there are endless interpretations that stretch far beyond the literal. I learned to tap into the symbolism of red within my own Hispanic heritage and take it in new directions that circumvented the stereotypical and managed to reflect my own design sensibilities that encompass and integrate so much more.
As fortune would have it I won't be able to be in New York for the RED conference. That is part of the reason I decided to pay homage to this dynamic, exciting, and very complex hue, although what has been collected here merely skims the surface. Take a cue from Bono and look at the world through rose-colored glasses December 1-3, 2011 by attending RED: Allure, Style, and Significance. For more information: http://www.artinitiatives.com
"And whenever I'm in a situation where I'm wearing the same as 600 other people and doing the same thing as 600 other people, looking back, I always found ways to make myself different, whether it be having a red lining inside of my jacket, having red shoes, it hasn't changed." Jeremy Irons