When legendary Vogue fashion editor Diana Vreeland had her living room decorated in 1955, she told designer Billy Baldwin that she wanted it to look like “a garden in hell.” Vreeland, who died in 1989 and is the subject of a new documentary, “The Eye Has to Travel,” was infatuated with the color red in all its intensities and hues. She believed that tiring of it would be like tiring of someone you love. The room, which was drenched in red, from the pillow cases to the picture frames, was almost as famous as she was.
But we can’t all be Diana Vreelands. In fact, many people find too much red to be severe and overwhelming. Perhaps that’s why this season, the color on everyone’s minds is darker, and a bit muted. It’s red’s buttoned-up cousin, oxblood.
Oxblood is one of those colors that have myriad definitions. Some see it as a deep red with splashes of purple and blue, nearing burgundy or berry. Others see it injected with chocolate brown and closer to the color of, well, blood. It’s everywhere in fashion this season, from chunky waffle scarves to shiny leather dresses, as dark as a plum lipstick and as light as a sheer merlot.
Whatever your interpretation, proceed with caution when following the oxblood trend off the runway. When it comes to oxblood interiors, a little goes a long way.
“Dark red is like a spice,” said Alessandra Branca, a designer with offices in Chicago, New York, Paris and Rome who has been touting red for years. “It’s there to accentuate and to give balance. It is not the main ingredient. I would never paint a gargantuan room dark red, because that would be too much of a good thing.”
Branca, who said she returns to red for its glamour and energy, advises using oxblood in small, intimate spaces such as home offices, libraries or small dining rooms. It provides a great backdrop for collected objects or books, she said.
District designer Marika Meyer is not surprised that such a bold shade has taken the spotlight. After years of neutrals, she said she’s relieved to see that color and pattern have made a comeback.
“The difference between trends in clothes and interiors is the dosage,” she said. “What looks fabulous on a model can be too much in a room. You can take off an outfit at the end of the day. You can’t take off a room.”
Meyer likened red’s effect to the power of lipstick.
“Think about the woman who enters the party wearing deep red lipstick. She’s making a statement,” she said. “But it shouldn’t steal the show. You want lipstick to complement the woman. It shouldn’t be the only thing you see.”
When incorporating oxblood into a room, she recommends starting with accessories such as porcelain lamps, textured throw pillows or an accent chair. In her living room, Meyer has a dark red lacquer box that sits on top of a pile of books. It’s a tiny accent, she said, but it’s also the perfect touch.
For those with more conservative tastes, oxblood is more accessible than bright red. The hints of brown or cranberry give it a more traditional tone, especially with a matte finish (see Farrow and Ball’s Picture Gallery Red as an example). Both Branca and Meyer agree that oxblood’s historic connotations, pulling from an old English palette, will appeal to people who love red but may want something safer.
Also at play in fashion
When designers imagined new fashions for fall, they saw red. Not the usual crimson, though. High-profile names, including Alexander Wang and Frida Giannini for Gucci, chose a moody hue called oxblood to spatter through their collections. Pantone Color Institute executive director Leatrice Eiseman calls the deep reddish-brown color, popular in the 1930s and 1940s and one of the oldest hues in the Pantone pantheon, a classic that has ratcheted up and down in popularity. She attributes its strong resurgence to the serious times. The name itself is visceral, she says, but “it’s not a straight dark color; it has complexity.” Not unlike the world today.
Here, some ways to give an old standby new life in 2012.
— Screen siren Marilyn Monroe knew how to make makeup work for her. Adopt a Marilyn-like pout with the richly pigmented lipstick Deeply Adored from the new MAC collection in her honor. It even comes packaged with a photo illustration of the legend. $16.50, at MAC stores, select department stores and www.maccosmetics.com.
— Oxblood made a strong showing in Alexander Wang’s fall collection, in which he favored luxe textures, including leather, suede and tweed. Pair these pull-on, four-inch block-heel leather ankle bootswith cropped pants or a pencil skirt. And did we mention the color mates very well with others, including many shades of gray, pale yellow and teal. $695 at www.netaporter.com.
— As far as we know, there’s no rule that requires men to wear overcoats in boring black, navy or gray. Stand out from the crowd in this refreshing burgundy option, a mix of wool and viscose in a gentle-on-the-wallet price from H&M. $129 at H&M stores.
— Suppose the amaryllis you always get from Aunt Jane doesn’t flower or flops over unattractively. You can still work the traditional Christmas bloom into your holiday centerpiece with 29 1/2-inch-high faux floral stems, constructed with bendable wire that makes arranging a snap. $12.50 each at Pottery Barn stores and www.potterybarn.com.