Letters Page | September 2012

Searching for Madras

When we had an opportunity to travel to Chennai, India, we gladly accepted, thrilled at the prospect of finding the real madras-check fabric invented in the city. Originally called Madras but renamed Chennai in 1996, it lies in the Tamil Nadu region, on India’s southeastern coast. Energetic and colorful, it’s made up of a wild mix of architecture and histories—from the city’s red sandstone High Court, with its domes and arches, always visible in the distance; to the classical Madras Club, the second-oldest surviving club in India; to the Shore Temple, a seventh-century, five-story Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, overlooking Bengal Bay.

On our hunt for madras, we made our way to the Cholamandal Artists’ Village, where we found samples of the “bleeding madras” popular in the 1950s and ’60s. We explored the markets, expecting entire sections dedicated to the madras check, but after dozens of conversations with sales clerks, we still came up empty-handed.

Madras has fallen out of fashion in Chennai, but like many things in India, it still exists—simply in different forms. We met an artist at the M.Rm.Rm Cultural Foundation [mrmrmculturalfoundation.moonfruit.com] who produces baskets and other woven items influenced by the madras check. The traditional pattern is reinterpreted with plastic strands, almost pixilated [shown here, bottom left]. We expected the city’s famous textiles to be everywhere—but in the end, it is more fitting that a place with such rich design history continues to reinvent itself.

New York, NY

Espadrille City

We arrived in Barcelona seeking authentic Spain. My son, Noah, decided he’d find it in a pair of espadrilles, but not from a big store. He did some research, and La Manual Alpargatera’s [Avinyó 7; 34-93/301-0172] story charmed us. Cars can’t take you there because it’s in the old, narrow streets of El Barri Gotic. We wandered around and eventually found it. The shopkeeper taught me how to lace up my espadrilles—I had been doing it wrong all my life! The place is a true Spanish gem.

New York, NY