This colour is thoroughly unsuited to concealment or camouflage. Its magical power captivates us as soon as it becomes visible in the first light of day. What is the fading ruddiness of sunset in comparison to the pure, boundless energy that unfolds in the first dazzling rays of the morning sun?
In most cultures, red plays the most important role of all the colours. It probably owes this preeminent position to a tendency to associate red with primordial forces. The red of blood or a blazing fire are just two examples illustrating the intensity with which this colour has accompanied us since prehistoric times. Red is THE colour of life and throughout the millennia has been associated with key rites of passage.
The same holds true for the linguistics of colour, which share similarities in many regions of Europe. In the names of geographical features such as landscapes, mountains and, most markedly, in the names of rivers, it points to unmistakeable origins in Stone Age communalities like Rhône, Rhine and Ruhr. The names for colours in many European languages share a common linguistic origin: rosso in Italian, rojo in Spanish, rouge in French, red in English. Rebus or rube, rubin or rost in Latin, rudh in Sanskrit, ryth in ancient Nordic, rubigo in Latin, rouille in French, rust in English. They all share the same word stem.
To this day, red occupies a fixed place in everyday colloquialisms. An angry person sees red while an embarrassed person goes red in the face. A company whose balance sheet figures are in the red is losing money, but a red-letter day is one to be celebrated.
After black and white/grey, red is the third most commonly used colour expression, followed by pink, blue, violet, green, yellow, orange, brown, ochre, beige, turquoise, cyan, magenta, gold, silver and bronze. The colours listed above are a fixed part of our coloristic vocabulary.
Without red, life would be poorer
If further proof were needed, then it is supplied by the 450 commonplace names used to describe the various shades of red; a number that Axel Büther describes as very high, almost as high as the number of terms used to describe green and blue.
When faced with an unexpected request to name a colour, most people spontaneously blurt out the word: “RED”. When they are invited to name their favourite colour, 33% of the time the answer is “blue”, closely followed by “red”.
The spontaneous response of “red” is rooted more in intuition than, say, the answer “blue”, which is indicative of a cognitive reaction. Blue is “cleverer, cooler and trendier”. By contrast, red is seen as more “individualistic and emotional”, and therefore slips down a few percentage points in opposition to the more highly favoured blue.
Red in the driving seat: valued, in love and fast
Nothing is closer to our being than pure red. Red does not run from us but comes towards us. The red wall, the red Formula 1 racing car speeding away from the others, staying impressively in view although it comes around again much faster. “The Lady in Red” is unforgettable. Nevertheless, Goethe said that red was the king, and not the queen, of all colours.
Red is a masculine attribute and was always the colour of power. Red is the colour that flutters most frequently from flagpoles and appears on the coats of arms of royalty and the nobility. Today, roughly 150 countries have red in their national flags.
But you won’t find any red limousines in official government car fleets. Those at the head of government rightly suspect that the new humility is not demonstrated through the size of the engine but in the choice of vehicle colour and therefore favour a more status-conscious black.
Red roses are an established symbol of appreciation, whose suitability ranges from friendly bribery to the expression of true love. According to legend, their history goes back to ancient Greece and stories of love, jealousy and passion: all qualities that are now inseparably linked to the colour red. The more saturated, enticing and purer the red, as Primal red RAL 010 40 53 alone represents, the more long-lasting its effect. This colour is therefore the perfect start to the colour wheel.
The signal colour red – a visual echo chamber
Red has the strongest possible signal effect. The strategic aim when sending a signal is the echo it produces. Red lips, accompanied by the conspicuous repetition of the shade on fingernails and outfit, serve to strengthen the effect of the signal being sent. Red is assertive. We often perceive people who wear red as having both feet on the ground. At the same time, they exude a greater than normal aura of self-confidence, which is often paired with a high degree of emotionality and dynamism.
Nearly every other colour fades in the company of the pure and purest shades of red. As soon as we are confronted with red, it releases strong emotions within us. Blue, on the other hand, appeals to our intellect.
Thus, more than one imposing country house hotel has lavishly furnished its guest rooms with regal, pure red. For a single night, the perfect setting, for several relaxing nights in a row, perhaps less advisable.
Intense red often marks out staircases, corridors, salons, high end restaurants and the lobby. In places like these, the shade takes on an almost mellow and soothing quality. Through sporadically arranged table or wall lights, it also conveys a strong sense of hospitability and convivial wellbeing that is reinforced by a good, fiery Bordeaux and stimulating conversation.
The red of blushing cheeks. The primal red sensation.
How beautiful is this primal red? Take the shades of the human complexion; artists from the Renaissance onwards have tried to capture the different skin tones on the faces of their subjects, often choosing to paint laughing red lips and gently blushing cheeks rather than the blue-red rage of the berserker. The nuances of temperament were expressed by the portraitist less in the depiction of the subject’s facial expression and more in the choice of colour palette.
Pirates and kings share a passion for red
The days of colour bans fortunately lie far behind us. The pope does not wear red shoes any more, just as today, every commoner is permitted to wear shoes with red heels; something that was strictly forbidden in the Baroque period. Only the Sun King, Louis XIV (1638 – 1715), was permitted to stroll around gardens, courtyards and stately homes in red-heeled shoes. Even the red carpet may now be walked on by ordinary mortals. In the ancient world, this privilege was reserved for the conquerors of kings. The red carpet they walked over was the red cloak of the vanquished king as it lay on the ground.
Empirical studies show that colours have a specific effect on the way we choose to act. They demonstrate that colour schemes in the red spectrum, through their psychological and physiological radiance alone, are experienced as being as much as four degrees Celsius warmer than a cool blue.
Interior designs featuring red or other warm colours are an ecologically effective way of saving money. With their help, unnecessary goose bumps are avoided and the path to passionate communication is smoothed. Nevertheless, caution is advised when using this colour.
Thanks to its primal, undiluted vitality and passion it can quickly tip over into melodrama, making rooms appear smaller than they are. However, when used sparingly as an accent, red is hard to beat, turning every head in its direction. “Look at me, look at me”, is the unmistakeable message telegraphed by this colour.