The first thing which comes to the mind after mentioning the Oscars, is the long, luxurious red carpet illuminated by the flashes of cameras. It is more than just a piece of decoration: this ultimate symbol of chic and glamor was treaded on by the crème de la crème of our world – politicians, celebrities and other VIPs.
The marvelous Academy Awards would be bland without its vibrant color, the best background for the gorgeous attires presented by the actors and actresses. While over the decades the red carpet lost some of its glitz, its presence can give any event an aura of opulence and style. However, how many of us ever wondered what is the history of this unique textile? Is it a modern invention or maybe a remnant of the past?
The first mention of the red carpet can be found in the place quite unexpected: the play written by an ancient Greet tragedian and father of the theater, Aeschylus, in 458 BC. His Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων, Agamemnōn) describes the return of title character, the king of Argos, from his victory in the Trojan War. King’s wife, queen Clytemnestra, decided to welcome her husband with something very special – a red carpet: “Now my beloved, step down from your chariot, and let not your foot, my lord, touch the Earth. Servants, let there be spread before the house he never expected to see, where Justice leads him in, a crimson path.” Pious king is afraid to walk such a splendid path, as he knows it is the privilege of gods: “I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.”
Little did he know that walking this carpet would lead to his early demise at the hands of his wife, angered by the king’s infidelity and his murder of their daughter, Iphigenia. For Agamemnon it was a symbol of betrayal and death, its red being the color of blood rather than triumph.
Centuries later, marvelous Oriental carpets started to appear on Renaissance paintings, often as a main part of the background. The red dye used to color the fibers was extremely expensive and hard to get, as it was made from small bug called cochineal, thus raising the price of already pricey carpets. As a symbols of status and wealth, red carpets were eagerly displayed by their owners, mostly members of nobility, clergy and royalty. In 1821, the United States president James Monroe was welcomed in Georgetown, South Carolina, by rolling out the red carpet as he was about to disembark from a boat.
With time, the red carpet became not only a part of culture, but also the language. The term “red-carpet treatment” and “rolling out the red carpet” meaning special efforts made in the interests of hospitality, was derived from plush crimson carpets laid out to direct guests by The New York Central Railroad in 1902. A reference to this can be found in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.
While Hollywood has been using red carpet during the Oscars since the 33rd Academy Awards, it appeared for the very first time in 1922, at the opening of Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre and – coincidentally – the first Hollywood premiere of a film, Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks. While television broadcasts of the Oscars started in1953, the carpet’s luxurious red was not seen until 1966, when the gala was broadcasted in color for the first time.
The red carpet’s influence on pop culture was an inspiration for many other galas to develop their own carpets – the orange one for Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards and green for Green Carpet Capsule Collection – there is only one carpet, evoking such diverse emotions. Love it or hate it, the red carpet became an inseparable part of showbiz’s addicting charm.