Handbags - Feature Article

HERMÈS Colour Guide: Red

Red Alert 

Red sends all the right messages. It’s no accident that stop signs are red. Nor that alarm bells are painted red. Red says danger and caution. Red is the colour of life and action, a lipstick kiss on the collar and a bloody nose to follow. Red says oomph, it says sex and excitement. It is the colour we go for shame, in exertion, for blushing and rage. Red is our shorthand for high passion.

As humans we’re hard-wired to respond to red, so it’s no wonder we’re fascinated by it. In the Middle Ages, red was the colour of hell and damnation, but also the colour of the Gods’ divine love. High priests in ancient Greece wore crimson robes. Even popes used to dress in red, until the colour became associated with harlots (we’re looking at you, scarlet women) and red accents were replaced with white. Today, kings, queens and cardinals still use red. There is no other colour that is so fundamental and so connected to our primal and spiritual human itches.

A measure of our fascination with red is that we have so many names and descriptive words for its hues and tones. This is a point that the house of Hermès has long recognised. A glance at their palette of red leathers presents us with choices like Rouge Bougainviller, Rouge Garance, Rouge Vif, Rough Rose Jaipur, Hermès Geranium, Rouge Moyen.  All different reds, all with an individual subliminal message to pass on to the voyeur. 

Of course, in fashion circles the use of red has always come with a deep sense of its own historical and cultural significance. The same might also be said of the ever-ready and nigh-on timeless Kelly Bag. Émile-Maurice Hermès dreamed up the ‘Sac à dépêches’ in 1935, as a bag for his wife to carry. It went on to achieve worldwide success 20 years later, when, in 1956, Princess Grace Kelly used her ‘Sac à dépêches’ to shield her baby bump from the paparazzi. Hermès received so many requests for ‘The Kelly Bag’, as it became immediately known, that it was renamed in honour of the princess.

Statistics suggest that if you wear red while competing in sport you are more likely to win. What the stats don’t tell you is which red. So let’s just agree that sport can include all competitive activities and that a red Hermès bags is always a winner, be it in the boardroom or the wine bar. Looking for an edge over everyone? The Birkin Bag with its distinctive polished plaque, swivel clasp, and, of course, the house’s signature saddle stitching, is nothing less than legend. What better colour to carry than red?

Unless of course, you’re a little introverted. For red requires a summoning of self-confidence that few other colours demand. It requires that you ‘project’ outwards: there’s just no retreat in red. But here Hermès have you covered too, in the shape of the smaller, sleek and less showy Constance Long Wallet. This is a powerful ‘bolt from the red’ that you can reveal from a larger bag to let everyone know that however feminine you may appear, you can bite.

Much of our reaction to red is understood by instinct. Red, when worn (or carried) with intent, is still the quickest way to guarantee action and effect, whether that’s standing out in a sea of dark suits or attracting the attention of prospective suitors.

Where once we associated red with sacrifice, danger and courage, a more modern take (at least in Europe and the United States) is to respond to red as signifying heat, activity, passion, sexuality, anger, love and joy. In China, India and many other Asian countries it’s the colour of happiness and good fortune. 

So you’ll have all bases covered, wherever you roam with a Hermès bag on your arm. Red dials up life’s intensity. And in a world that can be dark, grey, sad, and sometimes mad, that life-affirming dose of red is often the only thing that will do.

Shop all Red Hermès bags.