The history of India Madras at J. Press dates back to the turn of the twentieth century when the fabric was a sporting costume of the Raj, British Colonial long before Holden Caulfield sported the Chennai plaid at Pencey Prep.
My grandfather, Jacobi Press, introduced the fabric post World War I when he engaged in a long-term trade agreement with Welch Margretson, & Co., manufacturers headquartered in London that supplied him with a wide range of clothing, furnishings and haberdashery made expressly for J. Press. The Yale Daily News of the time featured a newspaper ad publicizing “India Madras Recreational Shirts and Bathing Wear.”
India Madras went ballistic in the 1950s exploding at our stores in New York, New Haven and Cambridge and our nationwide coast-to-coast travel exhibits. Hideaways from Martha’s Vineyard and Newport to Southampton and Palm Beach as well as college spring vacations in Bermuda began flowing in rivers of bleeding madras.
Entering the family business in 1959, I used to accompany my uncle Irving Press on his buying trips around New York. He was a legend in menswear and possessed an uncanny knack to stimulate resources he nurtured and assisted to maturity. A nitty gritty example was the mill jobber who specialized in textiles from India out of a shabby warehouse facility off lower Sixth Avenue. I remember Irving directing me to crawl under the boards to salvage untended and wrinkled bolts of ancient madras that my uncle transformed into classics of the Golden Age. Remains of the day exist only in ancestral closets, vintage shops or textile museums.
Preppy Handbook, authenticator Lisa Birnbach declared in her 1980 classic, “If there is one fabric that is quintessentially preppy it is Madras.” Her quantifier was the “bleeding” found in the “real” hand-loomed fabric of the time.
Forty years later, J. Press buys its authentic madras directly from a three generation fabric weaving and garment manufacturing company in Chennai, India. The company is located in the colonial old central part of the city near the Madras Race Club founded in 1837.
Originally India Madras was a homespun pre 1400s calico type vegetable dye fabric made on hand looms by the general peasant population for everyday wear. Now expertly refined and manufactured on modern air jet power looms in home factory’s weaving division located in the heart of the India cotton growing region close to the yarn suppliers, who meticulously carry on the old style spin of traditional cotton madras on modern spinning equipment. Our supplier expertly sews the fabrics in its own factories in the city of Madras itself. This is truly authentic India cotton Madras product in every sense.
Menswear Epistemologist G. Bruce Boyer, appearing with yours truly April 25 at our 44th Street store for Cocktails and Sartorial Conversation, offers further insight on Heyday Madras Madness in his encyclopedic menswear treatise True Style, available for personal signing at the event.
The good times continue to roll at J. Press hooking “Madras Mavens” onto our unmatched selection of sport coats and trousers together with a treasure of furnishings including shorts, sport shirts, ties and caps.
Patchwork or plain, Bollywood initiates a new heyday for Madras enthusiasts at J. Squeeze.