Spin Cycle: How Bleeding Madras Washed Vice Into Virtue


Gentleman’s Gazette just published a great story on the history of madras. There’s much on the origins of the fabric in India, but even more interesting is Sven Raphael Schneider’s recap of the bleeding madras damage control at midcentury, when irate consumers were quickly educated that authentic madras was “guaranteed to bleed.”

According to Schneider, in 1958 a textile importer named William Jacobson went to India searching for madras. He found a firm producing an exceptionally vivid version of the fabric that smelled of vegetable dyes and sesame oils. The producer warned Jacobson that the fabric required carefully laundering or its colors would bleed, but he neglected to mention this when he turned around and sold 10,000 yards of it to Brooks Brothers.

Backlash ensued, with Brooks customers first sounding the alarm, and the chain of complaint working all the way back to the Indian textile firm with threats of a lawsuit.

Schneider picks up the story:

Instead of fighting each other, they came up with solution that was sheer marketing genius! One of the attorneys arranged an interview for Mr. Nair with the editor of Seventeen Magazine in which he created a story about this miracle Madras fabric from India that was exclusively made for Brooks Brothers in New York. In the following issue, the editor ran a seven-page article about fabric titled “Bleeding Madras — the miracle handwoven fabric from India.” And since pictures say more than 1,000 words, they added beautiful photographs with the caption “guaranteed to bleed.”

Within a days of the magazine hitting the newsstands, Brooks Brothers was flooded with thousands of requests for the Madras items and it became an overnight success. Both, Mr. Jacobson and Mr. Nair made a fortune from the sale and paved the way for future Indian fabric exports of millions of yards of Madras cloth. In the 1960s, David Ogivily, one of the leading “Mad Men” of the era, would further a very similar campaign for Hathaway Madras shirts, and all of a sudden customers couldn’t wait to see their Madras shirts fade fast enough.

Head over here for the full story. — c C m

15 Comments on "Spin Cycle: How Bleeding Madras Washed Vice Into Virtue"

  1. Makes a great story except that J. Press and most of the other bleeding Ivies were Bleeding Madras even when Harry Truman was President. Comes the day Seventeen Magazine scoops the trade.

  2. By the way, David Mackenzie Ogilvy, is the man’s real name.

  3. I somehow have a hard time believing that a fabric produced in India for over the centuries was finally discovered in 1958. Sounds like a another east coast BB myth. I also have to laugh at the ivy leaguers’ panic at bleeding madras, morons? Man, I would have loved to be on hand when they wore their first pair of 501s in the pre-pre-shrunk to fit days. The shear panic of indigo stained panties.

  4. Christian | July 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm |

    I asked Sven for his source and he pointed me here:


    It is perhaps boastful on the part of the textile importer, but doesn’t the “guaranteed to bleed” marketing spin correspond to this point in time?

  5. A.E.W. Mason | July 14, 2013 at 5:23 pm |

    Makes me yearn for a madras jacket, whatever the truth may be.

  6. Malvernlink | July 15, 2013 at 12:42 am |

    The best stylish casual shirt devised by man for truly hot weather. The madras shirts I wore in 1962 when I was in Junior High school were a much looser weave fabric and had imperfections in the fabric. (slubs and nubs ?) My mom knew how to launder them, wash in cold water and hang dry. The colors still became rather muted. The only downside was that these shirts were not very durable and only lasted about 6 months, but for a growing teenager it didn’t matter. By 1968 when I started college the shirts seemed to last longer (tighter weave cotton) like modern madras shirts and did not bleed or become muted. I can only surmise they were using more modern dyes. Nobody really cared because they basically still looked the same. What is great about Madras shirts is that they have always been available if you looked hard enough, like Brooks Brothers OCBDs.

  7. The Brooks Brothers web site claims to have introduced madras to the American market in 1902.

  8. Solids. As in Navy. For summertime blazers. I have an (old) one. I’d like a replacement but sourcing solid madras isn’t easy.

  9. MAC,
    If you read the piece closely, there are numerous earlier mentions of seersucker in the US, such as the Sears catalog of 1897. Esquire and AA advertised it in the 1930s, however it seems that it took a while until it got really popular and a million yards make for quite a few garments. Of course, Mr. Nair could have forgotten a few details but overall it seems like a trustworthy source to me, especially since he is now in the hotel business.

  10. Madras cloth in the United States goes back to at least 1718.


  11. That fabric pictured looks great. I wish I had a madras like one of those. I need to refocus my thrifting.

  12. this site, Ivy-Style, is fucking awesome

  13. Reactionary Curmudgeon | July 17, 2013 at 1:08 am |

    Much as I dislike Robert’s word-choice with regard to adverbs and adjectives, I fully agree with the sentiment expressed.

  14. Biff,
    that’s what we talk about in the article as well…

  15. Sven,

    I noticed after I commented that you mentioned the early Yale connection.

    Nice article overall. Cheers.

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