Starting a tie wardrobe in 2018 can be daunting; with the variety of options that are just one click away, it might be hard to determine whether a tie is going to get some use or will lie in a cedar box untouched for years.
This list was compiled following the directions of some Styleforum members who discussed pretty extensively the merits and versatility of the following ties on this thread.
A starting wardrobe of 12 ties might contain:
- Two navy solid ties (a grenadine and a repp, for instance)
- Two other solid ties (i.e. forest green grenadine, a chocolate brown repp)
- One glen plaid, guncheck, or shepherd’s check tie in black and white or navy and white
- One houndstooth tie
- Two pindot ties
- Two “neat” ties – small, evenly spaced designs
- Two repp stripe ties
See below for some great options that will help you complete your tie collection.
Navy solid ties
Solid ties in other colors
Glen plaid / Guncheck / Shepherd’s check ties
Repp stripe ties
Over the course of the autumn and winter, there’s a good chance you read the phrase “ancient madder” somewhere on the forum, and you may have wondered what it is. Although madder itself has a very, very long history, ancient madder now refers, at least in menswear parlance, exclusively to silk ties. These ties are specially treated to have the characteristically matte – or “chalky” – hand, then dyed with the traditionally dark and dusty colors of the madder plant.
Initially, the “madder” part of ancient madder – or any kind of madder – came from the dye’s origins as an extract of the Rubia tinctorum plant, otherwise known as “madder.” Use of the plant dates back to the Egyptian Empire of 1500 B.C., and it has been found in Africa, Greece, Italy, and central Asia. Most regularly, it was used to produce reds and oranges, including the red coats of the British Army. Like indigo, natural madder dyes were phased out upon the discovery of the plant’s coloring agent, alizarin, and its subsequent synthesis in 1868. It doesn’t help that some of the chemicals present in natural madder root have been shown to cause cancer in rats (that’s not something you have to worry about with the modern, synthetically-dyed ties).
In America, Madder ties became a standby of Ivy style, often found in paisleys and geometric prints alongside stripes and club logos. The colors given by the madder root, and hence by its synthetic replicas, are generally muted. Think of sandstone, changing leaves, and soft ochres – geometric madder prints remain an Ivy standby, but they’ve also been embraced by men who are after striking but conservative colors. They’re particularly well-suited for fall, when thicker textures and jackets come out of the closet for the changing weather.
Essentially, “ancient madder” refers to very handsome neckties in dark, chalky colors, with a similarly chalky hand. Several companies make “ancient madder” ties, though Styleforum members will be most familiar with names such as Drake’s, Shibumi Berlin, and Sam Hober. Larger brands such as Brooks Bros., Ralph Lauren, and Ben Silver also regularly carry madder ties.
Once you have one, Mr. Bruce Boyer recommends wearing it with a tweed jacket, though most jackets with some heft and texture to them will pair well with madder ties. When wearing a madder tie, do recommend embracing other natural or natural-looking dyes, such as indigos, which pair beautifully with the dark hues of ancient madder ties.
I remember asking my dad when I could wear a regular tie. A real one, like his; not the clip-on kind I’d been wearing since diapers. I grew up going to religious meetings, and although my two brothers were content with the ease of a clip-on to satisfy decorum, I wanted to dress like my dad. With a real tie. So one evening, when we were getting dressed for the meeting, I asked him.
“Do you know how to tie a tie?”
The look of stupefaction across my face elicited a smile from his, and he motioned for me to step in front of him as he was facing the mirror. Popping my collar up, he took one of his ties, draped it on my neck, and adjusted the blades a bit before giving instructions.
“OK, ready? Over, under, over, through.”
In less than ten seconds, I was wearing a tie. His hands moved like a blur. It could have been pure wizardry and I wouldn’t have been more amazed. It just seemed so…complicated.
“Want me to show you again?” Then slowly, “Over, under, over, and through.”
This time the sequence seemed more deliberate, and I was able to memorize the words, if not the steps themselves. So he left me in front of the mirror for a few minutes and finished getting the rest of the family ready while I repeated the words again and again. When he came back, I think I had a knot, but it looked more like the knot I used for my shoes.
“Let’s go. Put on your other tie, and I’ll show you again after the meeting.”
I don’t remember anything at that meeting, but I do remember looking at my dad on the stage that night, and I remember his solid brown tie, because I thought a black leather one would be pretty dope, or maybe a green square knit. All the clip-on ties I had were equilateral triangles and weirdly bulbous, but grown-up ties had organic shapes and that puckering at the bottom. Clip-on ties seemed like drawn-on mustaches, and they never fooled anybody.
One thing I did remember was ties generally seemed to stop just below the belt line, and there was some coherence between lapel width and tie. Even though this was the early 80’s when fat ties were still around, the balance was more or less what you see today. Speaking of today and recent trends: you never saw the back blade longer than the front. Never. EVER. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In fact it did – all the time, due to our short stature as kids. But we tucked it in our pants, and even had a name for it: the “peepee napkin.”
Later that night at home, before I took off my meeting clothes, I reminded my dad that he would show me how to tie a tie. So he got out another one, took off my clip-on, and went through the steps again.
“Over, under, over, and through. Got it?” I didn’t.
“That’s OK. We’ll do it again for the next meeting.” He loosened the tie, took it off my neck, tugged both ends, and just like THAT… The knot was gone! My dad had more style than Michael Jackson, even if he looked like Treat Williams.
I don’t remember exactly when I tied my first tie successfully, but I’ve never wondered when I needed to wear one. You just know. And I’m glad I know how. I guess I can thank my parents for that. Now that I’m older, #menswear has evolved into a fashion-y, mercurial soup of peacocking posing as creativity, but classic tailored clothing – or “meeting clothes”, as I came to call them – will always be cool to me. And more than anything else, the tie – tied correctly – makes the difference. So when the situation calls for it, do it. Do it well. Because who wants to keep dressing like a kid, when you can look like a grown-up?
Video: The Armoury
Styleforum regulars won’t need a primer on terms like seven fold and bartack, places like Como, Italy, or names like Robert Talbott. Them’s tie terms. Sette specializes in limited runs of handmade ties—not everyday ties, maybe, but neckwear you can reach for when you need your “closer.” Fok talked with Peter Watkins about Watkins’ luxury neckwear line. Sette will be a vendor at Styleforum’s 10th anniversary showcase and party in May.
Fok-Yan Leung: Could you tell me a little about your background and the genesis of Sette?
Peter Watkins: I lived for a time in Italy while I was in college and have always wanted to find a way to do business there. I worked in politics and spent 5 years at the White House in various press aide type of roles. One time, during an official White House trip in Rome, we had a free afternoon, so I wandered along some streets and stumbled on a very small shop which sold only neckties. On the walls were photos of the proprietor and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, among other dignitaries. At the time, I was intrigued by anything custom made for a head of state for obvious reasons. It sort of opened my eyes to an entirely new echelon of neckwear that I’d never really thought about. I’ve always wanted to have some type of business which would give me a reason to be in Italy, and neckwear seemed like a logical product.
FYL: When you went to Como, Italy, what did you say? “I want to make ties for titans of industry…and the president?”
PW: Ha. It shouldn’t be lost that titans of industry and presidents are expected by us to hold to a higher standard in their wardrobes. I would argue heads of state and industry drive neckwear trends because a necktie by its nature is a “power” accessory. You’ll be hard pressed to find a shop in Italy, especially the reputable ones, who don’t boast of having someone like President Clinton, Tony Blair, the King of Spain, or whomever else with power as a customer. If I were selling t-shirts or jeans, I’d want Justin Bieber or Timberlake to be my brand ambassadors. But for ties, give me people with real or perceived power. I heard a story once from a major neckwear manufacturer who said they sold out of light blue neckties when President Bush started wearing the color with more frequency. There was even a hypothesis that his advisors suggested the color was a political calculation in order to try and have a “calming” effect on the country in the aftermath of 9-11. (I doubt it was that calculated, but a fun story.) So our goal in creating a product was to aim for a standard in fit for a president.
FYL: Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted to accomplish from the beginning? Did your vision change with your visits to talk to tie makers in Como?
PW: We knew we had to be different. We wanted to combine a few things which we haven’t seen altogether in one necktie. 1. Make true seven folds. 2. Give each necktie a name and a number and stick to it. A few of our ideas caused some head scratching with the manufacturers. For instance, we wanted to have any and all labels woven into the silk. No after-market tags. It’s nicer. It’s personal. But it makes it very difficult when constructing a seven fold, because the weaving has to be exact. I’ve heard rumors of products being labeled, “Made in Italy,” only to learn just a portion of the product was made there, and the label was sewn on after the fact.
Also, we had to decide whether we would be a true seven fold, and run the silk the entire width of the blade in the back, or if we would “cheat” as you see in some seven-fold ties, where the folds just sort of touch in back. We wanted our bar tacks to take on the shape of the number “7” (as Sette means seven in Italian)—a simple touch, but it’s painstaking in the manufacturing process. It all has to be done by hand, which speaks a lot to our brand I think. So far with our first runs of designs we’ve stayed true to this vision. But it hasn’t been easy.
FYL: Tell me a little bit about how you came to partner with Robert Jensen, and describe the creative process between the two of you.
PW: Bob is a legend in the industry. He has more than 30 years of experience in neckwear alone. It so happened his daughter and son-in-law were friends of ours from school. Bob was transitioning from Robert Talbott, and the timing worked great for us. Bob created the designs and colorways, as well as oversaw the manufacturing. I’m responsible to help get the word out and tell the story.
FYL: Could you guide me through the details that make Sette neckwear “worth it”? What is the value that you offer your clients?
PW: We are the first to admit a Sette is not for everyone. It’s not meant to be. We make a finite number of each design and will never repeat it. If you own “#4 of Brilliant Blue with Stars,” the point is, you become a part of a club. When you take a look at the construction of a Sette, you’ll see we use an awful lot of silk. The finishings and construction of silk are second to nobody. There is a rush you get when you tie a knot with a Sette, that a necktie with a cotton or wool liner won’t have. My perspective is, when you need your very best results to come from your wardrobe, when you need your “closer” tie, you will reach for your Sette. When the occasion demands respect (a wedding, funeral, job interview, etc.) you want to show that respect with your best tie. Enter a Sette.
FYL: What is the retail climate, both online and off, for a new brand, in 2012? Are the purchasing habits of your clients affected by the economy, even?
PW: We are too young to give a wise answer to this question. That being said, I sleep well at night knowing I have a great product. It’s well made. It’s different than anything out there. It has a story. I feel confident there will always be a market for people who “quest for the best,” as the great Stanley Marcus put it.
FYL: I know that you cater to “titans of industry” and “heads of state”, but there are only so many of those. What do you offer to the rest of us?
PW: I consider informed readers of Styleforum to be “titans” of good taste. 🙂 [Editor’s note: wait til you meet us.]
FYL: How do you see Sette neckwear in 5 years? 10 years? Do you plan to offer other accessories? Shirts? Zen gardens?
PW: We plan to stay simple. Scarves, pocket squares, and other accessories are certainly on the horizon. When we launched Sette, we wanted to stay true to a few goals. 1. Do something fun. 2. Do something in Italy. 3. Try to leverage the professional network to achieve #1 and #2.
FYL: I’m sure that there is a question you wish I’d asked. Can you tell me what that is, and answer it?
PW: You forgot to ask how to buy a Sette. Online of course! www.setteneckwear.com Also, don’t forget fathers’ day is coming up.
One of the benefits of the recent boom in interest men’s clothing has been the sprouting of grassroots companies that fulfill the niche-y desires of hobbyists—Styleforum favorite Howard Yount, for example, or startup the Knottery, which launched last summer. Based in Brooklyn, the Knottery is run by friends Jay Arem and Jack Fischman, who make limited runs of men’s accessories: ties, pocket squares, and belts among them. Overwhelmingly, their items are well-made and often infused with a humor that cuts the potential mustiness of the men’s furnishings business.
Tempted by the low prices the Knottery offers (ties start at $25; less than the sale price of most fine neckwear), I picked up a couple of wool models last fall, a square-ended cable knit tie in navy and a tweedy, point-ended model with a chambray keeper. The ties knot well and are nicely proportioned—most are 3 inches at the widest, some knits a little narrower. The company does not intend to compete with the neckwear you’ll find in the salons of Napoli that Derek has been covering; rather they offer “affordable style for the initiated; attainable style to the beginner.” To me that’s a worthwhile niche to fill.
I spoke with Jay about getting the Knottery off the ground, and what he and Jack have in store.
Pete Anderson: How did you first get into the business of men’s accessories?
Jay Arem: I had been an avid internet style blog reader for the last few years. I had been working as a manager of a branch of an energy company, and always wanted to do something more creative, but couldn’t find my platform. I had originally wanted to blog, but after many nights staring at the blinking cursor on a blank word document, I realized that it wasn’t gonna work. The accessory business idea started as a joke between me and my now-partner, then-friend Jack after a movie one night. He had been involved in a bunch of different e-commerce ventures in the past but never retail or “fashion.” I made a crude mockup of a site on PowerPoint and emailed him the next day. We agreed to each invest $500 and in the worst case have a bunch of ties to give out as gifts for the rest of our lives.
PA: When exactly did you launch? The Knottery is well past worst case now—you stock ties, pocket squares, lapel flair, and small leather goods. What’s been the most interesting stuff to source?
JA: We went live in June 2011. We have fun every day. Each item presents its own challenge to source. Jack and I both share an interest in production, fabrication, and the sort. While the internet does offer many opportunities to find sourcing for a plethora of items, it remains difficult to find manufacturers of specific items.
PA: Was it truly a from-scratch operation, starting up? Did you have relationships that you could take advantage of at the start, as far as manufacturing, design, etc.?
JA: The whole thing began as a hobby. The website was hard-coded on a per hour basis by freelancers from that original mock-up. The designing was all from scratch. We had a few leads for overseas manufacturing from some of Jack’s other dealings to start out.
PA: The ties you guys carry are interesting–they rely a lot on knits, non-silk fabrics, and texture. Where do you think you get your design sense/aesthetic taste?
JA: It kind of came about from two separate directions: One, we began with fabrics that we could source at lower quantities, not going the standard route of buying direct from silk mills. Two, we wanted to make ties that we would own and wear. As two guys who have “dressed up” every day for the better part of the last decade, our aesthetic leans toward the dressed up casual look.
PA: That look seems to be pretty on-trend with a lot of men’s clothing right now: suits and ties for men who choose to wear them, rather than men trying only to meet the minimum requirements of a dress code. Regarding your fabric choices and sources, is working outside what may be the standard business model for makers–e.g., not buying from silk mills directly–a method you plan on continuing, or was it more a matter of necessity?
JA: A bit of both. It also allowed/forced us into pushing the boundaries of conventional fabric sourcing. One of our first ties were made from an Etsy purchase I had sitting in my closet for about a year. On the other hand we also want to produce some “regular” ties and therefore buy some materials from mills, such as a grenadine we are in the middle of perfecting.
PA: I assume that Etsy fabric made for a small run. How many ties do you usually do per design? Can you tell us a little about construction of the Knottery ties?
JA: We do 50-100 per style usually. Construction, because of the unconventional nature of some of our fabrics we have played and experimented with different linings each time. We continually strive to achieve and are constantly learning more about what makes a tie great. We have sewn many a tie sample ourselves to test out different linings and silhouette dimensions pre-production. Currently most of our ties are lined and self tipped (when possible).
PA: Regarding construction–are your ties all made in one place, or is it sort of make-em-where-it-makes-sense? There’s a great “brewery” based in Maryland called Stillwater that is really just a guy who makes beer at various breweries, depending on what he wants to make and what capabilities he needs.
Also, the Knottery’s non-knottable goods–how did the belts, lapel flowers, and eyeglass “chains” come about?
JA: We use three different factories, depending on the item. The other categories were just a natural extension of what we were doing. Our mission statement has become: “if we want it, let’s try to make it.” That is why we have a cap coming in in the next week or so [eds note: a collaboration with Fairends].
PA: How has reception to the Knottery’s stuff been? To what do you attribute success so far?
JA: We have gotten great feedback. We love what we do and some of the best parts of all this have been meeting people who have similar passions, getting emails from different people just wanting to say hello or make a suggestion.
PA: I should follow up on the production question—one of my ties is marked “Made in USA”—are the factories all in the states? The ties I’ve seen from you are, in my opinion, very good value, as I bought them for $25. Your current tie prices sell for $25 to $35, and made-in-USA belts all under $70. Do you expect to be able to keep retail prices low as you grow?
JA: We use a factory in China for some of our ties. We use this factory because frankly it wasn’t possible to achieve certain ties at the price points where we needed to be. We are all for Made in the USA , but we put quality and affordability before country of origin.
We hope to continue keeping our prices the same or close to what they are.
PA: I think shoppers appreciate honesty as far as country of origin goes, although made-in-Italy and made-in-USA, among others, will always carry value. One last question—there’s a winking humor in much of what the Knottery does: from your web copy to your designs, including the dub-monk club tie. Where does that come from?
JA: We wholeheartedly agree about the origin carrying value, and continually search for more avenues of U.S. production.
The humor is a natural representation of our brand because its a natural representation of Jack and me as friends. Our daily goal is to outwit one another. For the sake of this interview, I usually am the winner.
Cilento is the oldest men’s store in Naples, possibly even all of Italy. Like many good things in Naples, it’s not something you’d easily come across unless you knew what you were looking for. It’s outside of the main shopping districts and close to some government buildings. Nonetheless, it’s quite well known to the locals and a real treat to visit.
The shop was founded in 1780, but it wasn’t until 1820 when it was moved to its present location on via Medina, where it’s currently spread across two buildings. The main shop holds a range of clothing, footwear, and accessories that would satisfy the taste of any businessman or outdoorsman. Here you see mannequins with waxed field jackets and floppy cotton hats. Fine leather bags decorate the tops of old wooden shelves, which in turn hold stacks of neatly stacked, soft, woolen knits. Casual trousers and surcingle belts hang from the same display rack, and next to them is a large, heavy wooden tray that holds a selection of handmade ties. Further back in the store, bolts of English wools are set alongside Italian cottons, both ready to be made into custom suits and shirts for incoming clients.
There’s also a large selection of shoes. In keeping with the store’s classic taste, these include models by John Lobb, Edward Green, and Alden. There is an emphasis on brogues, chukkas, and derbies, and a surprising number of them are black, given Neapolitan men’s reputation for mainly wearing brown.
The secondary shop is just outside and a few steps away. This one is a renovated boutique dedicated primarily to ties. The room’s central display table holds a beautiful array of seven-folds, each handmade out of English silk. The designs are conservative and elegant, often using small flower or figured patterns not unlike those I found at Marinella. More ties are displayed in heavy wooden trays at the sides of the room, and under them are innumerable drawers holding sample fabrics for bespoke commissions. Prices start around 100 euros, which seemed typical of the high-end neckwear in this city.
To some degree, much of this description sounds like any high-quality classic men’s store in the world, but what really sets Cilento apart is the small studio above the tie shop. Go through the back, up the stairs, disappear through another set of doors and you suddenly feel like time has stopped. Spread through these five or six rooms is a complete private collection of objects from the company’s 232-year history. There are counters and shelves with old shoes and wool fabrics; beautiful early 20th century furniture, paintings, and prints; and original receipts from the family’s previous business in the shipping industry. There are also forgotten artifacts, such as an old trouser press and sample silk swatches for custom ties in the 1930s. In the other rooms, there are vintage women’s scarves, made for Fiat using some of their 1920s advertisement designs. The whole place is a veritable museum of Neapolitan sartorial history, narrated through the original tools, garments, and even cloths of their time. Ugo, the eighth generation Cilento behind the company, tells me they host many parties and social events here. You can watch video of last October’s and November’s events on YouTube.
Before I left, Ugo was kind enough to give me a bottle of the company’s wine. Only 450 bottles are made per year, and they’re usually given to the company’s best clients. I went home that night, had a few glasses, and listened to the street noise as I thought about how satisfying the day was. It’s not every day you get to check out a men’s store as old as America itself.
M. Cilento e F.llo dal 1780
Via Medina 61 A-B
Tel. +39 081 5513363
The E. Marinella shop is quite small. It looks out across the park towards the waterfront and its entrance is framed with imported English wood and Calabrian green marble. As soon as you walk in, there is a wrought-iron Liberty-style chandelier that hangs above your head and wooden display tables in front of you that hold an array of beautiful ties. Rep stripes and Macclesfield prints, all made in a rainbow of colors, are showcased alongside a small selection of watches, colognes, ashtrays, and leather goods. Everything here is essentially the same as it was in 1914, before the two world wars and three political regimes that Marinella has seen Italy go through.
E. Marinella has remained here since its opening, even though the company has far outgrown it. There’s simply not enough room here for its inventory or operation. Thus, behind the shop—outside and up the stairs—is a showroom for not only its full collection of neckties, but also all the accessories that the company offers.
For example, there are the watches that Maurizio (the third generation Marinella man behind the company) has put into production. These actually began with a funny story. It’s often advised that you should leave your Rolex at home when visiting Naples, given the city’s reputation for crime and disorder. As such, Maurizio decided to give his clients plastic watches, which they could wear in place of their more expensive pieces while they were in town. These plastic watches, however, soon became collectors items and clients held on to them for their value. After seeing their unintended success, Maurizio decided to produce a small collection of watches that reflected his passion for timepieces and the company’s sense of style. Today, these watches are made with steel cases and Swiss movements and classic designs.
They also have incredible ashtrays with paintings of the city’s history, allowing a customer to leave not just with something that reminds them of Marinella, but also of Naples. Near the ashtrays are fine leather belts in a range of brown tones and colorful Kilim scarves.
Loredana, the woman who assisted me at the store, was also kind enough to show me Marinella’s assortment of cufflinks and charms, some of which were made out of precious red coral. Red coral has an elevated place in Neapolitan culture. The origin of the material is believed to be explained in a Greek myth about Perseus. Having just petrified Cetus, a sea monster threatening Andromeda, Perseus placed Medusa’s head on the riverbank while he washed his hands. When he recovered the head, he noticed that Medusa’s blood turned the seaweed into red coral. The material is now believed to protect people from danger and disease, and cure women of sterility. For this reason, a pair of red coral cufflinks would be very special, though also not very cheap.
More affordable items in the store include a handsome selection of Italian leather wallets. The simpler card cases start around $125, and they’re excellently made. The leather is finely stitched and the edges are better finished than I’ve seen on most handmade wallets stateside. There are also colognes and perfumes, starting at $110. The red-bottled 286 smells of lavender, sage, and tobacco, with amber and musk at the base. The unnamed blue bottle has a citrusy, almond scent with hints of marine and musk. One of the upsides to these scents is that they’re hard to find outside of Naples (I know only of De Corato carrying them), which means you’re unlikely to risk smelling like another man.
Perhaps most affordable of all were the bath slippers, which came in either a simple ivory or baby blue, with discreet “E. Marinella” embroidery at the top. At about $60 for a pair, should you not be able to leave with anything else, you can probably at least leave with these.
Riviera di Chiaia, 287
Ph. +39 081 245 11 82