The red carpet, which denotes high status and distinction, has long been the celebrities’ route during glitzy events. It’s where photographers follow famous people to capture their sense of style, where celebrities’ interviews happen, and careers on screen are made. Although the red carpet is now most often associated with celebrities and formal occasions, its past is far more complicated and gloomy than its present-day connotations.
In this essay, we explore the evolution of the red carpet, starting with a Greek tragedy in 458 BC, a railway station in 1902, and the current celebrity show business.
The First Recorded Mention of “Red Carpet”
Agamemnon, a drama written by the Greek playwright Aeschylus in 458 BC, may have been the first work to make mention of the red carpet. Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, rolls out a red carpet for the king after he returns home victorious from the Trojan War. Tragically, in the story, both were out of love with each other at this point.
In reality, Clytemnestra is courting his doom by having him walk on the “red carpet,” which at the time was a colour reserved for the gods and not for mankind. The play’s words go like this: “Now, my darling, dismount from your chariot, but do not let your foot, my lord, contact the ground. Servants, let there be spread before the house he never expected to see, where justice leads him in, a crimson path.”
Fearful of incurring the gods’ wrath and meeting his demise, Agamemnon treads the crimson path with apprehension. According to certain historians, the Greek culture may have had a tradition of putting out a crimson carpet for royalty. Similarly, in the medieval era, Indian handmade carpets too were associated with high status and wealth.
Why Is It a “Red” Carpet?
Red was one of the most expensive dyes in medieval Europe, making red a colour that only wealthy royalty could afford.
In Turkey, the vivid red was created by a laborious process in which the roots of the Rubia plant were used as a colouring agent and fabrics were repeatedly soaked in sheep dung, olive oil, and other materials.
In Mexico, the cochineal, a scale insect, was crushed to derive the natural colour of carmine. It is a tropical American native insect that was valued for export and used for textile dyeing under the Aztec and Maya Empires in America. Following Spain’s conquest of what is now Central and South America in the 16th century, cochineal insect-based crimson dyes were first commercialised in Europe and then produced by other imperial countries.
These associations apply to more colours than only red. Prior to the invention of synthetic dyes, purple was another expensive and elusive colour that required a laborious process of extracting pigment from sea snails using lead. In ancient Rome and Persia, purple was an exclusive colour for royalty, just like red.
Aside from the cost of the red dye, only a select few could afford the handcrafted rugs anyway. Thus, in history, we only see red carpets being used as a sign of grandeur for deities in many Renaissance artworks.
After the Industrial Revolution and the development of synthetic dyes, red dye became considerably more inexpensive, but the connotations of red carpet continued.
The Beginning of The “Red-Carpet Treatment”
James Monroe, the country’s fifth president, made history in 1821 by arriving at Georgetown, South Carolina, by famously strolling down a red carpet. However, it is claimed that the advertisements for the 20th Century Limited, an express passenger train on the New York Central Railroad, were where the expression “red-carpet treatment” first appeared. It transported passengers from New York to Chicago much more quickly than the earlier trains throughout its run from 1902 to 1967. A red carpet in the Art Deco style welcomed passengers arriving by it at Grand Central Station, referring to the luxurious treatment they would enjoy while travelling.
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The Red Carpet And Hollywood
Since the beginning of big-budget cinema, the red carpet has been rolled out for movie stars. Red carpets for celebrities to walk on as they enter a venue are believed to have first appeared at the Los Angeles Egyptian Theatre for the 1922 premiere of Robin Hood. However, until colour photography and film became common, readers and viewers of those early red carpets were only able to see a black-and-white version of the events. At this moment, the significance of a red carpet had changed from being a sign of Agamemnon’s impending doom to being a display of riches and rank devoid of any connotations with the king or the gods.
Despite having a long history, the Oscars continue to be the red-carpet event of choice today. The Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, where the Academy Awards are held, is outfitted with a 900-foot-long by the 33-foot-wide red carpet. The huge zone is where the stars pause and pose before entering.
The press follows celebrities everywhere they go on the red carpet. Just like they do now in front of the Dolby Theatre, fans and media personnel lined the red carpet’s borders for the 1922 Robin Hood premiere. Before everyone could follow every second of the rich and famous’s lives on social media, the red carpet was a chance to connect with celebrities who were otherwise inaccessible.
Celebrities are only one aspect of what the red carpet has come to represent. The red carpet today carries a tonne of figurative connotations related to honouring and paying respect to someone. At gatherings and restaurants, people can treat highly esteemed individuals to the red-carpet treatment, just as they do for VIP guests. Getting the “red carpet treatment” in these scenarios might refer to anything from having a party greet the individual at the door to being guided to the best seats in the house.
Thus, the evaluation of the indelible history of the “red carpet” above tells us a lot about the politics of the colour red and the status of carpets. When red is combined with a carpet, according to history, things are about to be iconic and unforgettable.