London - Why is a flash of red so exciting, so naughty? The hint of a red bra, red lipstick, a red sock under a city suit, a teasing red shoe?
That Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City seemed almost welded to her towering red-soled Louboutin stilettos, also beloved of real women such as Rihanna, Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham, is well known.
But it’s been reported that sales of tester pots of red paint have rocketed because women have been painting their shoe soles red to mimic the covetable foot-coverings.
It’s an unforeseen, Blitz-spirited twitch in the row that broke out last year between Christian Louboutin and Yves St Laurent over whether a red sole could be trademarked.
YSL had made red shoes with red soles and Louboutin took umbrage. Zara, also selling a red sole, got embroiled.
The gist of the complex argument was about whether Louboutin could trademark what had been a feature of his top-end shoes for 20 years.
Yes, colours can be trademarked in particular circumstances; Whiskas purple is one.
But last month, Louboutin lost against Zara in the French high court, which decided that ideas must be free.
So why do some women enjoy wearing the flashing red insteps that are especially visible from the rear, apart from their whiff of money?
Obviously the shoes are sexy to many, and red attracts attention.
Female baboons have flashed inflammatory bottoms at their admirers for centuries and old tricks are usually good ones.
The earliest record of women using shoes to attract interest from behind is by prostitutes in Ancient Greece, whose studded sandals left an imprint of the words “follow me”.
But it was men who started the red-heel thing, wearing them at court in the 17th and 18th century, as a 1701 portrait of Louis XIV in red heels and finely turned white stockinged legs, by Hyacinthe Rigaud, shows.
Women soon caught on.
The Victoria and Albert Museum has a pair with a high red-leather heel, dated 1700.
Even earlier, in Venice, courtesans favoured red for their high chopines – platform shoes towering up to an eye-watering 45cm, which even Lady Gaga might totter at.
There’s a pair in the corner of Vittore Carpaccio’s 1490 picture, Two Venetian Ladies on a Balcony. Those blonde-haired “ladies” were tarts.
We consider red the most exciting, daring colour. At a fundamental level, it is the colour of arterial blood, or fire, so we are conditioned to react to it instantly, to avoid potentially fatal danger.
It’s also the colour of flushing: sexual not only in baboons, but as a sign of attraction between humans.
It’s not called “hot” for nothing.
This is why reddened lips and rouge, or blusher, have brought accusations of immoral behaviour since their earliest, pre-Christian use.
Chris de Burgh’s Lady In Red trope is constantly mutating; from the Virgin, in her beautiful, costly red cloak in many Renaissance portraits, to Jessica Rabbit in the 1980s film Who Shot Roger Rabbit, to the “little red dress” that turns any woman into a confident vamp.
While the consistent element is attractiveness, variable bolt-ons include connotations of wealth, immorality or allure.
Visible red sits at the far end of the light spectrum, just before infrared.
Interestingly for such a stirring colour, red has a long wavelength and low frequency. But unable to perceive that, we are instead drawn to the overt visual thump of red, like moths to flame.
Red lake, red lead, red ochre, madder; Indian, Prussian, and Spanish reds; cadmium and Mars red; alizarin, vermilion, and scarlet are just some of the names of different pigments given, as artists tried to capture the thrill and beauty of red, used both in paintings and in dying cloth for clothes.
For by dressing ourselves in the stimulating colour, we take on, and give off, some of its qualities and attributes.
As long as people have worn red, there have been attempts to monopolise or reserve it for particular ranks or classes.
Along with Tyrian purple, red was briefly an imperial colour in Rome, though it was also used for wedding veils, and red is still a wedding colour in India, China, and other parts of the world where it represents good luck and happiness.
* Phillipa Stockley is a painter and author of The Edge of Pleasure and A Factory of Cunning – The Independent on Sunday