Quality doesn’t always speak for itself. To give an example: I learned recently how tough the olive oil industry has become. The market is dominated by a few giant middlemen, buying up oil years in advance, blending better and worse batches for maximum efficiency, and selling at razor-sharp margins. If you want to make oil the old way—grow and hand-pick the best fruits, press them locally, and sell without blending—you compete with the big guys on their terms. The traditional oils are miles better, but how do you explain that to customers rushing home after work? Customers who can’t taste it in the store, and can’t tell how it was made?
Menswear is doing well by comparison. There is a growing interest in craft, provenance, quality of materials and (thankfully) working conditions. These things are hard to communicate in a few images, and it doesn’t help that many retailers are still happy to throw around terms like “bespoke,” “handmade,” and “Made in Italy” simply as decoration. But there are plenty of people fighting the good fight. Often it comes down to rejecting the efficiencies of mass production: making clothes slowly, by hand, and using the best natural materials, even if they are more expensive than a synthetic substitute.
At a recent Trunk Show, I got the chance to meet Harry, owner of British tie maker H.N. White, and Ennio, CEO of Saint Gregory Tailors in Naples. It was one of those cultural connections which only really makes sense in an internet age: when small producers have more in common with each other than with the large industrial manufacturers in either country and educated consumers can pick from artisanal products made in England, Italy or Japan by scrolling through their phones. Both H.N. White and Saint Gregory are young companies championing traditional methods, and drawing on the talent and know-how of old tailoring cities, London and Naples.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to review a pair of H.N. White handmade ties. (These were provided without charge for the purposes of reviewing.) Like those Drake’s, these are made by hand in England, constructed with a single slip stitch down the length of the blade, and optionally finished with careful hand-rolling. Crucially for some buyers, they are available in both 8cm and 9cm widths. To my mind, the best aspect of the brand is its fabric selection. There are always classic business ties in grenadine weave and thick printed silks, but each collection also brings something unusual and often distinctly British, drawing on the silk archives in Macclesfield, a weaver in the Scottish Highlands, or one of the great English woollen mills (such as this clever use of Solaro).
Construction is equal to the other top makers I have tried in England and Naples. Of particular note are the hand-rolled tips, as seen on this russet wool tie. But there are subtler details too: the keeper is made from tie cloth and tucked into the inside of the blade, as it should be. The interlining is pure wool, giving a nice knot and a springy hand that recovers quickly after unknotting.
The first tie I tried was made in a summer wool from Fox Brothers (an English mill most famous for its flannel). This is a high-twist wool, similar in texture to Fresco. It’s wool so crisp and dry you would swear it was linen, except that it doesn’t crease. The russet with a blue overcheck is a versatile piece that works especially well against navy suits. It’s a wool tie, but unlike the brushed wools you might first think of, this is a four-season piece that’s lighter and drier than silk.
The second tie represents the other part of H.N. White’s house style: a commitment to classic English silks. Before he got into the tie business, Harry was a fan of Neapolitan tie maker E. Marinella, which has always favored these traditional English silks in its tasteful, conservatively patterned products. In France, these ties are an essential part of Le Chic Anglais. And they are, of course, the bread-and-butter of classic English tailors and haberdashers.
Among the neat prints, H.N. White’s Ancient Madder ties are particularly special: using the nineteenth-century dip-dyeing technique and natural madder and indigo dyes, they produce exceptionally vivid colors and a matte, chalky finish. Even in Macclesfield, the home of English silk weaving, true ancient madder is getting harder to find. This green colorway, like the others, is at once eye-catching and restrained, vivid without being shiny.
The history of British clothmaking is practically the history of the modern world. It’s always a pleasure to encounter someone with a gift for picking out new and archival fabrics, whether from historic mills or new weavers who are still learning an ancient craft. Ties finished to this standard—especially in Europe—will always be expensive. But for the enthusiast, they have a depth that comes from the care of those who design and stitch them. Call it soul if you want, or just call it character. Try the good olive oil—the kind that comes in dark glass bottle—and you won’t want to go back.
Shop H.N. White ties on the official website.
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