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Sat 20 December 2014
FEATURE ARTICLES
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PEOPLE: ALEXANDER MACRAE - SPEEDO
In his smart suit, waistcoat and tie, with a crisp white shirt, he looks like a gentleman ideally suited to wearing tweeds and brogues. But this is the surprising figure behind Speedo, the world's most famous swimwear - a Scotsman who emigrated to Australia in the early 1900s.

Alexander MacRae was the unlikely creator of the historic brand that is enjoying a resurgence. The entrepreneurial Scot emigrated to Australia in 1910 to seek his fortune, realising his dream when he began producing swimwear at his knitwear factory. Nearly a century later, Speedo is still the swimwear of choice for the stars, including David Beckham, who was spotted in white Speedo trunks this week on holiday in Italy. Daniel Craig will sport them in the new James Bond movie.

MacRae left his home in Loch Kishorn in the West Highlands to begin a new life in Sydney, keen to make a success in business. He first found work as a milk vendor, but by 1914 had set up his own underwear manufacturing firm - MacRae and Company Hosiery - under the brand name Fortitude, taken from the motto of the MacRae crest.

Profits were given a boost by the Australian Army's need for socks during the First World War, which gave Macrae the finances he needed to expand. But as his business progressed, MacRae ensured personal heartache when his wife Martha dies while giving birth to their sixth child, Jean, in 1925.

In 1928, MacRae held a staff competition to find a name for the swimming costumes that were starting to sell so well. Former sailor Captain Parsonson won £5 for his slogan, 'Speed on in your Speedos'. Within a year, swimwear was being produced under the new brand name. It quickly established itself as the ultimate swimwear for athletes and the public, earning MacRae the nickname 'The Speedo King'.

In 1932, Australian swimmer Claire Dennis won gold in the 200m breaststroke at the Los Angeles Olympics, causing controversy in her Speedo swimsuit as it was said to 'show too much shoulder'.

Having ploughed its resources into war production during the Second World War, the firm re-established itself in 1945, opening a new factory to cope with increased demand for swimsuits - due in part to the popularity of the bikini. Speedo's 'go faster' developments, such as 'fastskin', said to reduce resistance in the water y replicating the biological skin characteristics of sharks, has helped it stay on top over the years.

MacRae died in 1938 at the age of 50 on November 30, St. Andrews Day. The popularity of the swimwear he created continues, with a host of stars supporting the latest lines. In the new Bond movie, Casino Royale, due out in December, Daniel Craig will be seen on the beech in light blue Speedos, while former Bond Pierce Brosnan sported black Speedos and a cowboy hat in The Matador earlier this year. Prince William favoured the brand when he played water polo at St. Andrews University. He created such a massive surge in demand that the company sent him seven new pairs. Other fans include nightclub boss Peter Stringfellow, singers Des O'Connor and Sir Tom Jones, magician Paul Daniels and former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev.

A Speedo spokesman said 'The values that Alexander MacRae started Speedo with and maintained through the years remain important to us. He put family at the heart of everything he did and worked closely with his five sons, while his relationships with staff and other business people were always based on trust - that's the way he built up his business, through friendship and trust.

The Daily Mail in Scotland
Saturday 29th July 2006
Reproduced with permission

The Daily Mail
www.speedo.com


Photos left to right: Alexander MacRae, an early example of a Speedo knitted costume, New James Bond star Daniel Craig in Speedo swimwear during the filming of Casino Royale, Olympic medallist Sharon Davies modelling Speedo underwear, water polo playing Prince William in Speedo trunks.

Daily Mail in Scotland

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