Madras Plaid

composite madras long 3X3.png

This collection was inspired by the brightly-colored cotton plaids produced in Madras, India (now Chennai). Several features distinguish authentic madras from other fabrics: 1) it is always from Chennai, 2) the pattern is the same on both sides of the fabric, and 3) it must be handwoven (as evidenced by the small flaws in the fabric).

In the 1930s, madras plaid garments became a status symbol when they were worn by wealthy tourists returning from expensive resort vacations. It was also at this time that madras became a preppy staple.

In 1958, Brooks Brothers purchased 10,000 yards of madras plaid which they made into garments that were sold without proper washing instructions. This resulted in the bright madras dyes bleeding in the wash, and the garments emerged discolored and faded. A marketing plan was devised to mollify the enraged customers who had bought these very expensive garments. Brooks Brothers claimed that this bleeding fabric was actually very special, and made exclusively for them. The phrase “guaranteed to bleed” was coined by advertising legend David Ogilvy, and Brooks Brothers had more requests for madras garments than it could handle.

It is this bleeding quality that Julia attempted to capture in this collection. All twelve pieces have the same pattern, but the color stories are quite different. Julia saw this collection as a way to explore color combinations that were more tonal in quality than her previous textile pieces, the Crystiles, which are studies in high contrast. Each Madras Plaid collage has a dominant color which is used in both dark and light shades. For instance, blue and light blue crystals are used for the Blue Madras Plaid. The darker shade anchors the piece and establishes the geometry, while the lighter shade represents the “bleeding” of the darker shade. A contrasting accent color, in this case red, unequivocally establishes the pattern as a plaid. So while the Madras Plaid Collection began as a straightforward attempt to recreate a particular textile, it actually evolved into something much more abstract.