The English madder silk tie is recognised worldwide as an icon of British style. It’s a home grown classic with a proud heritage and a distinct provenance. The “madder” part of this lovely phrase refers to a natural dye from a Eurasian herbaceous plant, Rubia tinctoria.
Its continuing success through decades of rise and fall owe much too scientific intervention. The colouring agent in madder root called alizarin was in fact first chemically extracted and then synthesized in 1869 by two English chemists. Although the dyeing process, even today, requires a variety of painstaking steps, synthesized alizarin brought the price within the reach of commercial producers. Testimony to the significant part science plays ensuring the longevity of styles and textiles. Silk dyed in this manner is characterized by a dusty-looking finish and a feel (referred to as a chalk hand by the experts) very much like fine suede, and a matte finish.
Continuing, madder ties adorn the necks of English gentry countrywide. Sitting perfectly with tweed jackets and checked shirts. It complements a recognisable style that remains true to form and function with a distinctive British sensibility. Like most quintessential home grown classics madder ties stand the test of time, even today designers include them in their seasonal collections. Michelsons tie makers since 1937 regularly produce a small range of madder prints. Commonly using small paisley and geometric patterns against a richly coloured back drop is emblematic of such a proud heritage. Paisley madder ties have been a status symbol on college campuses since the 1930s, as natty alternative to the traditional striped tie.
Let’s not forget other methods of print, like screen printing, which is still very much alive in traditional form and widely used by the fashion industry in preference to digital print. Although labour intensive and more costly to produce than woven silks, the resultant quality of screen printing is far superior to any digital print techniques. But watch your backs, digital print technology is rapidly improving and within five to seven years it will be knocking on the door of traditionalists beckoning them to accept change or close their doors forever. You can’t ignore progress, without it very few could afford to buy a madder tie. Digital print will eventually drive down printing costs making products more affordable for the general public.
If you’re a collector then it’s not complete without madder. Frank Sinatra is reputed to have such in his collection of five hundred, which he often gave to adoring fans when touring.
It’s a short story with a long history.
Now chaps don’t rush off in pursuit of that elusive madder silk tie left hanging darkly in your wardrobe. Wait until autumn is upon us and choose one that matches the brilliant hues of nature of which we are very much apart of. Finally if you want something really special then you should look for a Neil Bottle or Cressida Bell printed tie, they’re not easy to come by, but a tie collection is not complete without.
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