Painting the town red

“Red hair is my life long sorrow,” Anne of Green Gables famously summarised the stigma surrounding the MC1R gene creating red hair, pale skin and bountiful freckles. For so long, if there was a geeky, bullied character in a film or TV show, it would be the redhaired child with glasses and an unfortunate mouth full of metal.  However, to the 1% of the world that has the scarlet genetic mutation, times are changing…


It’s no secret, the classic LA actress wannabe has got luscious blonde hair – Marylin Monroe said herself, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and the popularity of Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods make this clear. Enter Emma Stone whose vibrant red locks have become a signature look, setting her apart from the myriad of Hollywood stars. You might be surprised to hear that Emma stone isn’t a natural redhead – I know, she fooled us all! Why the drastic colour transition? Stone recalled “When I first moved to L.A., I had this agent who thought, because I was blonde, that I only wanted to play cheerleaders.” This goes to show that there are stigmas for all hair colours – redheads, you’re not alone.


Emma Stone is partially responsible for the copper-hair trend. Her character Mia in La La Land definitely helped and showed us that even people with red hair and pale skin can wear bright yellow and go out dancing in the heat of the day (we can draw our own conclusions on whether she was wearing the factor 50+). Tom Ford has frequently used redhaired actresses in his work and his directorial debut, Nocturnal Animals, is no exception. The cast includes renowned redhead Amy Adams (a frequent muse for Ford) and Isla Fisher. Amy Adams reiterated Emma Stone’s views on dying her hair in a conversation with New York Times, “the minute I went red, it was quirky and fun instead of flirtatious and dumb.” David Russel, director of the film American Hustle, spoke about his attraction to Adams mane, telling Vogue in 2014, “I thought it was really powerful, like, she just was on fire. I wanted it to feel like a cape.”


Image taken from MC1R magazine 

Fashion has been a big player in pushing this trend, with many more brands choosing fiery haired models for their catwalks and campaigns. Already deep rooted in the fashion industry, Grace Coddington, Creative Director of Vogue US, has branded herself by her frizzy red hair. Key models in the industry such as Lily Cole, Natalie Westling and Karen Elson have been able to set themselves apart from the crowd of unrecognised ‘clothes hanger’ models, and make a name for themselves by exploiting their genetics. Lily Cole first covered Vogue when she was 16 years old and was named "Model of the Year" at the 2004 British Fashion Awards. Natalie Westling got her start by dying her hair red for her first Marc Jacobs campaign and is now frequently chosen by Nicolas Ghesquière for Louis Vuitton campaigns and runways.

The trend was capitalised by Hamburg-based lighting design student, Tristan Rodgers who created a magazine specifically dedicated to red-heads, named MC1R. Speaking to i-D, Rodgers explained that MC1R started out as a photo project, but grew into a magazine as his idea grew traction. He said, “I started a crowdfunding campaign to see whether anyone else would be interested in reading something like this. There were more than enough pre orders, so I was able to print 1600 copies of the first issue.” This may come as surprising as redhaired people make up only 1-2% of the world (that’s two in every 100 people!). Their rarity has led to large communities being created for redheads with festivals being held all around the globe. The Irish Red Head Convention is naturally one of the largest, which lets you embraced “your natural hair-itage” and now uses it’s platform to raise funds and awareness for the Irish Cancer Society, focusing on “Sun Smart” campaigns.


In 2009 a report by National Geographics revealed redheads are becoming rarer and could be extinct in 100 years. This may be the source of the trend as we look to conserve flame coloured locks. MC1R wrote about this research confidently stating whilst the ginger gene is recessive, “it will take a lot more than the musings of a research project backed by a hair dye manufacturer to consign us to history.” It seems that MC1R wasn’t just trying to make sure they didn’t go out production – In a Guardian article by Adam Rutherford titled “Relax, redheads. You're not about to die out,” he explained that the ‘myth’ came from the presumption that redheads exist as an adaptation to cloudy weather in Scotland, but goes on to say that there has been no hard proof of this – so redheads you can go to sleep tonight knowing you won’t die out any time soon.


So, why are red-heads getting all of this attention? Well, the facts speak for themselves. Red hair will never turn grey; it ages gloriously from a coppery, rose gold to white. Redheads are already rare but the combination of red hair and blue eyes is the rarest in the world. Like red hair, blue eye colour is a recessive trait, meaning that both parents must carry this gene for a child to end up with it. We all know redheads’ burn quicker, but it seems this can also serve as an advantage - redheads can’t absorb sufficient Vitamin D due to low concentrations of eumelanin in their body but this means they cleverly produce their own Vitamin D – Magic! Perhaps people in the 15th century were right to seek out red-heads during the witch trials…