While Scarlet tends to orange and Crimson tends to purple, Carmine sits smack bang in the middle as the true north of red. Otherwise known as Primary Red, Spanish Red and even simply Rojo, it’s a loud and lusty shade that’s made from squished bugs. Really.
The colour of fire and blood, red has an intrinsic bond to the concept of life. Even though your red blood cells are only 50% of your blood volume, they deliver 100% of the colour. In fact red is so elemental, the word itself is rooted in the same word for blood across multiple different languages.
Does this bug you?
Cochineal Bugs are strange, tiny animals, often with no visible legs or antennae. They kind of look like white, waxy pimples on your cactus. So why are they so red? Carminic acid (their red dye) repels ants; their pigment evolved as a chemical weapon against predation.
Red Dye E120. Not the sexiest name, but there’s more behind this natural dye than just the gorgeous colour. It’s safe to eat and in all kinds of things, from your Campari spritz (but not anymore) to your blush lipsticks. This brilliant hue hails from the cochineal bug native to the Americas, which lives as a parasite on the soft spines of prickly pear cacti.
Indigenous people discovered their buggy superpowers after squashing them left a vibrant red stain on their fingers. So they started harvesting the bugs and drying them out, making a killing in the process.
Adored by the ancient Aztecs, some villages in Oaxaca still use cochineal in their textiles today. To create carmine dye, the cochineal insects are boiled in water to produce carminic acid which is then combined with aluminium or calcium salts as a mordant.
The cochineals turned the cogs of the Aztec empire, lined the pockets of the Spanish colonists, brought about a bumper trade with India in the 17th century and initiated a listing of the dye price on the London and Amsterdam Commodity Exchanges. So precious was carmine dye that it followed gold and silver as the third most valuable material at the time.
All seemed well with this buggy tint right up until 2012 when Starbucks’ vegan customers developed a bit of a bugbear. It came to light that the pink colour of their Strawberry Créme Grande Frappuccinos wasn't natural, but made from thousands of crushed bugs. Turns out it’s a drink brewed for those who love (shit) coffee but not bugs, and it’s not kosher or halal either.
It’s a gold (car)mine
Throughout his career, Tiger Woods wore red shirts on many of his most important tournament days. Looking at his career and what he achieved, wearing red served to intimidate his competition.
As any petrol-head will tell you, cars (and bikes) go faster painted red. And they may not be wrong, at least if you replace cars with the human body.
At the pointy end of athleticism, the difference between winning and losing is like milliseconds, so anything for an advantage is worth a try. During the 2004 Athens Olympics, researchers put this red theory to the test. Their studies showed taekwondo, boxing and wrestling competitors decked out in red had a better chance of getting gold.
They weren’t earth-shattering stats, but still certain. This is the thinking: if you’re an animal, red is related to male dominance with a side of grrrrrr.
By the time the Beijing Olympics rolled around in 2008, a new study showed existing theories around red and dominance were flawed. Here’s the twist: red wasn’t working its magic on the opposing athlete, it was influencing the referees.
In this experiment, the refs were shown identical fights using digital manipulation. The only difference? The colour contestants wore. Adjudicating the same fights, the refs awarded more points to the competitor photoshopped red, rather than blue.
So yes, when making close calls, red won because of the colour sway; not because of how it affects the spectator, but how it affects spectated.
Pigment of your imagination
The term red herring originated in the 18th century when dog trainers would use the pungent fish pickled herring to try and distract their tracking hounds. To succeed in their task, the trainee dogs would have to ignore this powerful odour and follow the original scent.
Can red make you richer? In a French study, waitstaff from five different establishments were dressed in white, red, blue, green and yellow T-shirts. They then recorded their total tips pooled over 722 diners in six weeks. The staff sporting red scored up to 26% more cash from male customers. The ladies, however, weren’t phased – red didn’t give a gradient to their gratuities.
So what does that mean for professions of power? Women politicians could use red to their advantage with male constituents to pull focus and paint them as risk-takers. But for men in the public eye, it’s still their actions rather than their tie colour that gets women voters on board.
A growing amount of literature highlights the role of red in attraction, dominance and aggression. Women see men as high status and more (wolf whistle) when viewed on a red background, while red didn’t affect how men see other men.
But is the sex appeal of red shaped by society, or is it something more biologically inherent?
The truth is murky because science can be slow to adopt emerging concepts. Change is hard, but psychological scientists have made headway over the years; they now include women as research participants. The next challenge is to curb the problems posed by the extensive use of gender measures that don’t reflect diversity. The (probably not last) frontier of adopting gender-inclusive scientific practices.
Red tape? It started with Charles V, who bound significant files with actual red tape so they were flagged for instant attention. Modern European monarchs followed suit, and even today, briefs belonging to defence barristers’ have a pink or ‘legal tape’ tied around them.
Red focuses behind the retina which coerces the lens to become more convex and pull it forward. It’s the reason we perceive sections of red as moving forward. In fact red is so elemental, it's the third colour given a proper name in every language and culture around the world after light (white) and dark (black).
Warm, exciting, and energetic, red is the colour of love, peril, passion, temptation, violence, rage and adventure all at the same time. Phew.
Primitive peeps saw red as representative of fire, blood, and the general life force. It signalled heroism in the eyes of the Greeks and crucifixion to the Christians. Fire trucks are carmine red, and it’s the global hue for stop, as well as to signal vigilance.
In 1464, the Pope mandated that ‘cardinal red’ be used for the cassocks worn by the Vatican elite. Red wax seals told recipients all around the world that the sender had influence and the contents were important.
In China and other parts of Asia, red is also the king of colours and embodies luck. It features on over 75% of the world’s flags and is the bridal colour in Nepal and India. In Russia, red is so enmeshed in society, that the word for it also means ‘beautiful.’
Brands love red too for its intensity, ability to provoke strong feels and also rally the appetite: YouTube, NASA and Coca-Cola to name but a few.
Red between the lines
Stop signs, fire engines, post boxes, and humans. To stand out and get noticed, carmine red is the ticket. Pull-on the primal energy of this fiery colour and find the right balance of strong and sexy with a Magic Fit® Tee in limited edition Carmine Red.