It was Valentino’s signature colour; Vivienne Westwood almost invariably uses it somewhere in each collection (one of her ready-to-wear ranges is called Red Label); the high street’s newest superstar James Lakeland never fails to put at least a half-dozen red pieces into each line; and Alexander McQueen’s autumn 09 collection for Dior, Karl Lagerfeld’s for Chanel and wunderkind Frida Giannini’s for Gucci, all prominently featured red.
Red Carpet has become a metaphor for glamorous dressing, and red is the colour of blood, the colour of passion and even a stimulant — studies show that it can increase the rate of respiration and raise blood pressure.
So it is hardly surprising that if you really want to inject some va va voom into your winter wardrobe, a flash of red is the way to do it. It could be a statement piece like a red coat or a red dress, or a top, cardi or skirt. But if even a red skirt or cardi feels excessive, a red handbag, bold necklace, cuff or chunky, cable-knit scarf, can add voltage to an all-black outfit — though not all at once; far too matchy-matchy.
For the current season, red was a statement colour for designers, from the darling of Paris, Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, who did a sublime collarless belted coat in red washed felt; to our own Nicole Farhi, whose clever, covetable autumn collection included a slouchy, red tweed overcoat, a drop-dead simple pillar-box red shift dress with draped skirt and — for those a bit phobic about all-over-red — the season’s absolute must-have accessory, elbow-length leather gloves… in scarlet.
Not all of us suit all shades of red — in fact most of us suit just one shade, which is why even the most vivid red can sometimes drain rather than boost — but the good news is that most women can look fabulous in red, providing they choose the right shade for skin, hair and eye colouring.
Cyndy Lessing, an image consultant who specialises in colour, notes: “Generally, if your skin tone is ‘cool’, then go for reds that have a blue-based undertone — cherry red will look amazing. If your skin tone is warm (you are someone who suits gold jewellery), then seek out orangey or earthy coloured reds that have a yellow undertone.”
Blondes — natural ones with light coloured eyes — will look fabulous in clear, light reds, while for those with dark eyes, dark hair and a more olive skin tone, Lessing suggests deeper reds such as burgundy or aubergine.
And if you are wearing a big, statement piece of red, keep accessories simple and low-key — black bag, black shoes, black shades, big, bold black or gold cuff.
Where to find pieces in red
Power shift dress, £32, Dorothy Perkins; pleat shift dress, £68, Kew; ruffle front dress, £65, Oasis; Nicole Farhi long-sleeved silk dress with side draping, £549, Fenwick, W1; slouchy jersey dress, £410, Preen (www.brownsfashion.com); long-sleeved, draped dress, £169, Vivienne Westwood Anglomania; red fitted dress, £35, Marks & Spencer Limited Collection; belted, roll neck sweater dress, £35, Wallis.
Tara Jarmon cashmere/wool swing coat with high collar, £399, Fenwick, W1; short military coat with gold buttons, £95, Dorothy Perkins; curvy, cropped jacket, £392, Vivienne Westwood Anglomania; funnel neck coat, £74.99, River Island; curvy coat with big collar, £69, Marks & Spencer Limited Collection; nipped-waist, cropped military jacket, £15, Primark.
Heart Pocket Skirt, Sonia by Sonia Rykiel, £209, Fenwick, W1; wool pencil skirt, £340, Dries van Noten (www.brownsfashion.com).
Knits and tops
Frill sided 80s top, £205, Paul & Joe 134 Sloane Street, SW1; oversized wool jumper, £335, Cooperative Designs (www.brownsfashion.com); Long knitted cardigan, reduced to £300, Fendi (www.brownsfashion.com); classic roll neck sweater, £15, Marks & Spencer; “vintage” beaded cashmere cardigan, £45, Tu at Sainsbury.
Dark red patent ankle boots, £120, Carvela at Kurt Geiger; strappy shoes, £140, L K Bennett; Nancy bag in aubergine, £595, Smythson; peep-toe suede platforms, £70, Faith; patent platforms with curly bows, £580, Valentino, 174 Sloane Street, SW1; Blondie gauntlet gloves with buttons, £89, Fenwick, W1; enamel cuff with diamante, £45, and dark red statement necklace, £60, both Adele Marie (www.adele-marie.com) and at Harrods, SW1.