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