In the world of fashion (and other) magazines, there exists a phenomenon known as the ‘Anita Loos Effect’. Ms Loos, a rapier-witted screenwriter of no little style and beauty, is most famed for having observed that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (though, as she pungently adds, they prefer to marry brunettes). Thus, the ‘effect’ for which Ms Loos is named refers to the media’s privileging of blonde models, since to do so, we are told, is a guarantor of maximum sales.

Advertisements for perfumes appear to adhere to a similar principle: Caucasian blondes undisputedly predominate, though brunettes and the raven-haired make their presence felt, presenting a ‘smouldering’, ‘dusky’, ‘exotic’ counterpoint. Black and Asian models are predictably few in number – woefully so, in fact, given the global scope of the fragrance market.

But where, I find myself asking, are the redheads in all of this? Are they the perfume industry’s last visible minority? Is this a flagrant case of ‘gingerism’?

Admittedly, mine may represent a somewhat Northern European concern: after all, redheads are said to make up just two to four per cent of the human population (a percentage that is, nonetheless, visibly higher here in Britain, in Ireland and Scandinavia). But this statistic relates to that rarity that is the natural born redhead, overlooking the fact that humans of multiple cultures and civilisations have long elected to redden their tresses, from the use of henna and other compounds by the peoples of ancient Egypt to the many millions who use home-dye kits from their local pharmacy.

Indeed, could not the fact that copper locks are so very sought-after and prized not be a case for placing redheads at the forefront of fragrance fantasy?

Did not Hollywood, in its golden age, champion many a redheaded siren? Consider the flame-haired (if assisted) glamour of the undulant Rita Hayworth, the disarming, rusty waves of the wayward Susan Hayward … and the iconic, bouffant vividness of the perky Lucille Ball. Even Anita Loos herself wrote The Red-Headed Woman screenplay (1932), a vehicle for an appositely russet-wigged Jean Harlow, who played a dastardly, red-haired home-wrecker and hussy.

For such is the ambivalent flipside of Western perceptions of the fabled redhead: for every Titian-haired, too-hot-to-handle glamourpuss there is a ‘carrot-topped’, tomboyish, forked-tongued firebrand. For every Boticelli’s Venus there is an antithetical Biblical Lilith; behind every Rita or Susan lurks a Fergie or Cilla. Thus, with the redhead, we find a cartoonish jarring of the sensual against the asexual, of the combustible against the abominable.

As with any minority, it may be argued that redheads are too numerous to be ignored and too rare to be accepted. Thus, the mythologising – and demonising – of redheads is all too commonplace, though one may discern a tinge of awe in some pronouncements on this genus. Can Mark Twain’s declaration that ‘redheads are descended from cats’ not be interpreted as some form of panegyric; likewise Colette’s allusion to the redhead’s ‘feral, civet-like smell’?

More than once have I heard it mentioned (albeit with no substantiating evidence) that, due to ‘a lack of oil in their skin’, redheads in fact smell ‘just like babies’, and are to this end employed by companies for the testing of perfumed products. (A comment as to the veracity of this ‘fact’ would be highly welcome.)

To consider the history of redheads in the marketing of Western fragrance, an extremely rudimentary survey reveals a handful of iconic examples. First is Jean Patou’s Adieu Sagesse (1925), a clove-laden floral that was created as part of the designer’s ‘Love Trilogy’ of scents, with the redheaded lady wearer at the heart of its conceptualisation. Second are those pale, enigmatic, and ‘quirky’ redheads that have fronted high-profile scent campaigns, such as Karen Elson for Gaultier’s Classique (1993) and Lily Cole for Moschino's I Love Love (2005).

Last, and most compelling, is the glorious parade of redheads who, for almost forty years now, have represented Yves Saint Laurent’s modern classic, Rive Gauche (1971). A sassy, energetic, irreverent blast of aldehydes, the chic and audaciously sharp Rive Gauche was arguably the first scent to attempt to bottle the dynamism of ’70s feminism. How apt that YSL should opt for an exemplar of ‘unconventional’ beauty to front a scent that, like the socio-political movement it emblemised, sought to shatter all pre-conceptions of what was ‘normative’ and desirable.

Who are your favourite redheads from the annals of modern perfumery? Share them here with The Scentimentalist.

This column is dedicated to two superlative redheads. To my Mum happy birthday. And to Miss Helen Lawson, with my sincere condolences.


  1. Dear Scentimentalist, thank you so much. Your insights have reminded me of how shocked and excited I was by Annie Lennox with her orange-dyed crop. She was my eighties role model. I wore the suits, spiked my hair, tried looking stern but now I realise, never dared to be red. Maybe I'm ready in 2010.

  2. Dear Scentimentalist, so many fascinating insights. Your Mark Twain quote reminds me of how at the RSPCA cattery we were cautioned about adopting a female tortoiseshell (red fur mixed with other colours) kitten, because "they can be little madams". This turned out to be the case. Of course true 'ginger queens' are said to be very rare in the cat world. Male gingers, on the other hand, can make affable, steady companions. Hope I have not gone completely off-topic here.

  3. Gosh, Annie Lennox, yes. How striking and unique she was with her orange crop. And something tells me that she would never have stooped to churning out a tawdry, money-grubbing 'celebuscent'.

  4. I am glad to see you flying the flag for the flame-haired, and after some rudimentary rummaging in my own memory vaults I have not come up with any more ads featuring ginger models. Mind you, Florence of Florence And The Machine could sell a few bottles of something edgy, if she were so inclined...

    Oh, and I was one of the ones who couldn't see this post earlier either - just the image!

  5. The Scentimentalist4 January 2010 at 04:52

    Mitz redhead is here, Flit:

  6. Hello - my all-time favoutite redheaded perfume (though not the perfume itself) is Sophie Dahl's Opium ad...

    x Kathleen

  7. Thanks, Kathleen. Perfect! I must say that, of all the brands, YSL really does seem to champion the redhead. Here's Karen Elson going glamorous and ginger for Opium:

    Oh, and Kathleen, with your complexion I feel you'd make a fantastic redhead, you know! x

  8. It's funny, but kids still mudder 'ginger' at me in public - I usually blow loud fish kisses at them and wink in response.

    Let's hear it for Brenda Starr, Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters as well!

    bridge xx

  9. The Scentimentalist6 January 2010 at 12:30

    Man, Brenda is some glamourpuss! I do love Bernadette Peters: 'I'm picking out a thermos for you ...'

    So many super redheads there, Miss Bridgigan!

  10. I love redheads, and I love fragrance. I wish I could be one of the fiery beauties. Thank you for this wonderful article combining two of my loves.