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Psychedelic beginnings

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April 06, 2008|Erin Weinger

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.

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-- Erin Weinger

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