DHAHRAN: Nothing quite captures the anticipation of a glamorous evening like the rolling out of a long strip of velvety red carpet.
And movie fans in Saudi Arabia are in for such a treat after it was confirmed that the Saudi Film Festival, being staged at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), will see stars saunter down a scarlet strip, as opposed to the lavender carpet that other high-profile events in the Kingdom tend to favor.
But what are the origins of the red carpet?
In the age of live streamed award shows, the eye-popping red carpet has morphed into being a main event in its own right. It is universally understood that those walking down a red carpet are celebrities of note, usually dressed to the nines.
First rolled out 100 years ago, the earliest-known red carpet in the world of cinema was unfurled at the Hollywood premiere of the 1922 film “Robin Hood” at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles.
Why is the red carpet, red?
Senior curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Sonnet Stanfill, told BBC Culture: “Red as a color has long been associated with prestige, royalty, and aristocracy. Scarlet was among the most prized dyes as it was the most difficult to make and the most expensive.”
The natural dye, named carmine, is still made by crushing the dried bodies of small female scale insects. Native to tropical and subtropical South and North America, these little parasites were also used by the Aztec and Maya people in the 15th century to naturally dye fabrics.
While actors and filmmakers are encouraged to express themselves by wearing classical or couture silhouettes, many opt for off-the-runway looks or avant-garde garments. Casual or urban attire is typically frowned upon.
Six months ago, Saudi Arabia rolled out the red carpet for the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, and soon it will appear on the opposite coast, for the Saudi Film Festival at Ithra, in Dhahran.
Award-winning Saudi fashion designer Hatem Alakeel knows the scene well. He has been dressing local and international stars for almost 18 years, most notably for the Saudi Cup.
He told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia is a country that understands fashion — we’re not trying to mimic any other culture. I think that red carpets such as the (upcoming) Saudi Film Festival really reiterates the fact that we are ready to show what we are made of.
“Now that we have our own red carpet, it’s time to celebrate our own creatives, the amazing gems that we have locally. I really think that the history of the red carpet was always very frustrating for me because I always thought that red carpets were synonymous with Dubai, Los Angeles, New York, or anywhere else but Saudi, and now, it has become synonymous with Saudi Arabia,” he said.
In 2021, the Ministry of Culture switched the color of its official ceremonial carpets from the flamboyant red to a lavender hue for official ceremonies. This swatch switch was in line with Vision 2030 to better celebrate the nation’s identity.
The ministry’s website stated that the gentler color was chosen because, “lavender is associated with blossoming wildflowers that carpet the Kingdom’s desert landscapes in the spring and is a symbol of Saudi generosity.”
However, it seems the Saudi Film Festival will honor cinematic traditions and invite its celebrity guests to pose up a storm on a red carpet — and it is set to be a glittering, rose-tinted evening.