In 1965, Rit Dye nearly died. Used primarily to dye curtains and other home accessories at the time, the product wasn’t selling, and the factory was about to close. Don Price, a Best Foods executive hired to market Hellman’s mayonnaise, persuaded his bosses -- who also owned Rit -- to let him have a shot at saving the failing brand. The agreement came with a catch. He had to do it with virtually no budget.
After researching uses for dye around the world, Price began a gonzo marketing campaign in New York’s Greenwich Village. He hoped to generate interest among the neighborhood’s free-spirited youths, who were fast becoming fascinated with psychedelic colors and artsy-craftsy garb. He knocked on doors looking for artists who would be willing to use Rit for tie-dyeing, a technique used in Asia and Africa to decorate clothes.
He found the married team of Will and Eileen Richardson, out-of-work window decorators, and brought them bolts of velvet and chiffon. Their tie-dyed fabrics were so impressive that Price used them as samples to peddle to designers and fashion editors. Most weren’t interested, but Halston was. He placed a $5,000 order and used the fabric to make clothes for Ali MacGraw and other celebs.
By 1969, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass and Joe Cocker were wearing tie-dye at Woodstock, and Marisa Berenson was wearing Halston’s tie-dyed velvet caftan in Vogue.
The Richardsons won a Coty Award six months later. And Deadhead couture was born.
-- Erin Weinger