Tanya Knitwear – Leads the Way in Crimplene (c.1967)
Back in the sixties, the future was sold as something that would be made in laboratories and factories by massive corporations like ICI. It would be wipe-clean, disposable and plastic. This advert for Tanya, a Hockley-based knitwear company that was busy chucking out grubby old wool in favour of state-of-the-art Crimplene, exemplifies this wider trend towards replacing old fashioned fabrics with replacements spun from modified polymers.
Terylene was a variation on polyester, the catchy abbreviation devised to market a substance known in the chemicals industry as polyethylene terephthalate. Resin polymers had been used for clothing before, but had the unfortunate side effect of irritating the skin, so when Dennis Hibbert, a textile engineer working for a Macclesfield firm called Chesline & Crepes, came up with the process for making Crimplene, the results were embraced by the industry and the rights bought out by ICI.
By the sixties, Crimplene was being used as a staple material for clothing, and arguably reached its apogee in the explosion of semi-disposable fashions of the late sixties’ mod and psychedelic eras. It turned out that Crimplene wasn’t only perfect for making brightly printed dresses and retina-searing shirts: it was also the cloth of choice for bringing snazzy suits and ties within the compass of working men’s and women’s affordability right up to the seventies.
Sadly for Crimplene, the multiple recessions and oil crises of that decade hit sales of new clothing hard, and the fabric, like the colourful fashions it helped bring to the British high street, lost both its novelty value and upwardly spiking sales. It didn’t wear well, wasn't exactly warm, and proved susceptible to cigarette burns and hardening when its wearers stood too close to gas and electric fires. Not that you’d guess this from Tanya Knitwear’s enthusiastic 1967 advertising.
Even so, perhaps Crimplene’s fate still has a lesson for us all. That would be about mistaking one development for the whole face of our future, an error we seem determined to make again with the notion that everything will become digital, whether we like it or not. After all, if Crimplene seemed briefly set to eradicate traditional wools and cottons from our wardrobes, it also found its greatest usefulness when blended with wools and cottons, in today’s ‘mixed fibre’ garments.