Ready To Wear: Redheads are having a moment

By Susannah Frankel
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:18

Redheads are having a moment. Not on the catwalk or indeed in the newly unveiled autumn/winter 2009 advertising campaigns – redheads are far too rare and risky a business in the current climate when the order of the day is to keep things as safe as the proverbial houses. I'm thinking instead of the single redeeming feature in the appropriately desperate 'Desperate Romantics' – the burnished locks of muse Lizzie Siddal played by Amy Manson who verily has the most gorgeous hair known to television. Then of course, there's the star of the forthcoming American 'Vogue' documentary, 'The September Issue', Grace Coddington, to consider, whose mane of red hair establishes her as the agent provocateur of the piece where for the most part, once again, appealing to the many rather than the few is the driving force.

Alexander McQueen – another agent provocateur, incidentally – has always favoured those with red hair. He once told me: "Redheads are interesting, aren't they? They're a unique race of people, like albinos."

He's not wrong. No more than one to two per cent of the human population has red hair, and its confined predominantly to northern and western Europeans, and their descendants. Red hair, experts believe, appears in people with two copies of a recessive gene on chromosome 16 that causes a change in the MC1R protein. It's associated with fair skin colour, freckles, and sensitivity to ultraviolet light, as the mutated MC1R protein is found in the skin and eyes instead of the darker melanin.

As with any minority, redheads come in for more than their share of flack. While terms like "ginger", "coppernob" and, most bizarrely, "period head", may be laughed off once a red-headed man or woman reaches an age where any difference may be prized, in the playground having red hair may be no joke. Red heads, however, have the last laugh.

Just look at the evidence. Hollywood A-lister Nicole Kidman is a natural redhead and presented herself as such when, circa Dead Calm, she was perhaps the best actress on the circuit. Now, she's blonde and boring. Closer to home, the most endearing and enduring soap heroine of them all, Bianca Jackson, has red hair and an appropriately out of control temper to match. Redheads, common mythology decrees, perhaps ridiculously, have a fiery temper to match their crowning glory. Equally compelling: Jac Naylor of 'Holby City', the evil registrar of the piece whose red hair symbolises ruthless ambition and a far from warm heart. Patsy Kensit move over.

Back in the fashion world, Vivienne Westwood is the single most prominent redhead in the industry and a woman who has consistently railed against the establishment where both her views and physical appearance are concerned.

Redheads, then: they're not to be messed with. Consider yourselves warned.

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