For some time now I’ve been musing on what on earth has happened to the makers of ties. Time was when the men in one’s life sashayed out — to dinner, to the theatre, to party — a tie was an indispensable part of the ritual. These days those who are still obliged to wear ties to work take them off when they venture out to socialise. I was in a swanky Japanese restaurant in Mayfair just last week and a gaze round the room revealed not a single man (and several were well into comfy middle age) was wearing a tie except — and here’s the rub — the manager.
When Nick Jones sticks rigidly to his ‘no ties’ rules for his Soho House empire (and the doormen are exceedingly vigilant), it’s for a reason: he sees the tie as a badge of conformity, emblematic of the banker way of life, and he wants only creative types from the world of fashion and media, film and literature, for whom, he imagines, the tie is anathema.
My moles in the City tell me it’s not just in the boho world of Nick Jones and his ‘creatives’ that ties are démodé. A senior banker at Credit Suisse told me that he keeps a couple of ties in a drawer in his office for when he thinks he is meeting a client, but most days he sorties without one. This means, says another City mole, that you sometimes get the absurd scenario of three tieless men all putting something round their neck entirely to meet up with each other and then reverting to déshabillé as soon as they’ve parted. But he guesses that something like half of those who work in the City don’t bother with them at all any more.
All this, it seems to me as a mere observer of the scene, is rather a pity. Because the semiotics of ties used to be wonderfully subtle. Ralph Lauren’s rise to fame and fortune, after all, started with a tie. He couldn’t find the sort of tie he wanted to wear so he designed a range that did appeal to him. When Bloomingdale’s said it would take them if he made them narrower and put the Bloomingdale’s name on the back, he refused. To him those few centimetres mattered — they were non-negotiable. So he made the ties up anyway and it wasn’t long before he was doing great business and the former Ralph Lifshitz was on his way to his billion-dollar fortune.
Fans of the late Gianni Agnelli, l’Avvocato himself, will remember that when Agnelli began arranging his tie so the skinny end was longer than the fat end he was copied by stylists around the world. As his great friend Taki put it, ‘The tie askew, the unbuttoned shirt — nothing was an accident. Or, to put it another way, it was meant to be an accident, which made it even more stylish.’
Ties today, though there may be fewer on view, still carry just as much symbolism, it seems. As Mark Henderson, chairman of Gieves & Hawkes, puts it: ‘The upside is that today the tie is more and more being seen as a source of pleasure than an obligation.’ Sales of ties are up year-on-year but Henderson freely admits that at the height of the dot-com boom and dress-down Friday movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a big dip in sales. Now, he says, they seem to be coming back. Many men, he concedes, don’t wear a tie every day, but 90 per cent of those you see strolling around with open-necked shirts will have a tie tucked away in the office desk for important face-to-face meetings.
At Anderson & Sheppard, Audie Charles (for long legendary tailor Doug Hayward’s right-hand woman and now overseeing Anderson & Sheppard’s stand-alone haberdashery and trouser shop on Clifford Street), confirms that fewer and fewer ties are seen around town. However, she says, ‘It’s a pity because most shirt collars are cut to be worn with a tie. Also, ties and pocket squares are the quickest and most effective way to change the dynamic of a suit. It’s amazing how a simple navy suit can change according to the tie that’s worn with it. They are also such truly masculine items. It’s very sexy seeing a man loosen his tie at the end of the day.’
She finds that the anti-tie brigade (as well as creatives such as architects and musicians), when forced to wear one, are the ones who mostly go for plain knitted versions (in silk from £95) and these days they outsell patterned ones.
Indeed, there’s no doubt that tastes in ties are changing. Whereas once the fat silk tie was the fashion of the day, today it is slinkier, slimmer knitted ties that are all the rage. Gieves & Hawkes now offers a huge selection of silk, wool or cashmere woven ties from £95. The cult tie in some (rather rarefied) City circles, meanwhile, is Emmett’s woven grenadine silk one, in lots of lovely plain colours (£95). He first captured the bankers with his shirts which had contrasting fabrics on the inside of collars and cuffs, and now they match them up with his ties.
When a bit more formality is called for, then there are other recherché names to look out for. Charvet, for instance, established in 1838 in Paris just round the corner from the Ritz and most famous for its silk jacquard versions (£150 a time), is now available online through Mr Porter, but beforehand fans had to make the journey to Paris. My City mole tells me that in his circles the choices are Bulgari if you like them wide, Charvet if you like them soft, Hermès or Ferragamo for those who want to go the classic route. Meanwhile, the modernists go for something niche and narrow — something like, say, Lanvin’s silk knitted tie or something from Richard James.
But everybody agrees that for most of the really serious players in banking and international power circles there is one name that for subtlety and status stands out above the rest: E Marinella, the Neapolitan tie-maker who a few years ago opened a shop in Maddox Street (just to make you feel like a real insider, you have to press the bell to be admitted). As a friend who works for one of Switzerland’s longest-established private banks puts it: ‘The thing is, Swiss bankers have a slightly Calvinist streak and they like the fact that E Marinella ties have a class and a subtlety about them, a lack of distinctive patterns, which means that only those in the know “know” — if you see what I mean. There is nothing to send out a flashy, swanky signal.’
These are the ties that were worn by l’Avvocato, by Visconti, Onassis, Bill Clinton, Prince Albert of Monaco, heads of states and those so ‘arrived’ and powerful that they have no need to signal their status to anybody at all.
- Look out for the Kingsman menswear label. It’s been created by film director Matthew Vaughn and Mr Porter and coincides with the launch of Kingsman: The Secret Service. There are suits, overcoats, tuxedos and a velvet smoking jacket, and classic names have been called in to collaborate.
- In Milan, the new go-to atelier for tailoring is Dolce e Gabbana, next door to its boutique in the Corso Venezia. On offer are bespoke polo shirts, trousers, boots, pyjamas or anything else customers have in mind.
- Hackett has launched clothing aimed at the traveller. Its reversible jackets are tweed on one side and nylon anorak on the other, for wind and water protection. They come in chocolate brown or navy combinations and are £450 each.