I think if I were to be asked to fill in a questionnaire about myself I would list Ebay as a hobby which was now perhaps something of a process addiction.
Sometimes I find myself unable to get to sleep and so I reach for my phone and check on the price of a Smythson diary. Then I'll do a quick search for Marco Pescarolo jeans or make a search under a luxury seller for everything that's in my size (don't ask).
Unlike a regular retailer who might stock a small stable of brands and stock one or two types of black oxford shoes, Ebay is like going into some old monastery and being given the key to the library. It is like a tomb, but then it's also not. It's maybe better described as a jungle, where you can forage from the top of the canopy right down to the jungle floor and everything in between. However, unlike a jungle, there is some decorum because nearly all of the sellers are subject to being reviewed for their products and services, so even the hyena and the vulture are perfectly well behaved as they perform their function.
And we, as buyers, are not much different. We are mostly scavengers, trawling through a garbage heap looking for what's been undervalued or under-loved, also subject to review.
A week ago I found an extraordinary thing on Ebay. As most of you who read this blog would know, my business was founded with a great love and appreciation for the institution that is Charvet of Paris. And even ten years on and having done a lot of great work ourselves, I still find myself having a certain sigh of romance when I think about the Parisian maker.
Someone, somewhere, had decided to call it a day for this matching royal blue ottoman silk cummerbund and bow tie set and it had been moved to a clearing house somewhere in Chicago. I bought it because I was fascinated by the cummerbund - and I had wanted to know how they had made theirs in what appeared to be an 80's era make.
When it arrived I opened it up and, as I often do, the first thing I do is give it a smell. This particular item had that smell of having had a long life with many dinner parties, a few speeches, a few liasons and then quite possibly a heart attack. I tried to imagine a larger than life American, possibly a lawyer, raising a glass to his friends at his Chicago men's only club with a spumante style of champagne glass, his stomach swollen and pressing heat and sweat through the marcella bib onto his cummerbund, slightly sweating at the brow and daubing it with his napkin.
We don't know the history of it but it's nice to think fondly that this particular set meant something to someone and had been worn a great deal.
As I turned over the cummerbund I noticed that the bow tie was attached so I cut off the string that attached it to the the bund, the bow was a little manky looking so I thought I would give it a press and try to re-tie it but as I pulled at the bow the whole thing snapped and unravelled in front of me. It wasn't a self-tying bow tie at all, and that was an even bigger surprise than the cummerbund.
The bow was in fact a piece of batwing silk that had been knotted somehow and then had been attached to the rear strap with a stitch. It was the most unusual and most endearing and natural way I had ever seen a pre-tied bow tie be made and my heart started thumping for Charvet again.
The arrival of the set that day just happened to coincidentally occur when, the very evening before, I had caught up for dinner with a chief executive of a publicly listed property trust who had, as he had lowered himself into his chair at the table, plonked in the clean white linen space between my knife and fork, two Tom Ford bow ties.
"Can you please re-tie these for me - I don't know who else to ask. Someone untied them on me. I can't work out how to re-tie them".
I looked at him and shook my head.
There in front of me was a batwing and a very oversized modified butterfly looking shape where the blade on the right ended with a hook which then attached to a very elongated left wing blade. I think the last time I had tied a Tom Ford bow tie, after I removed the foam, was about five years ago. I was up for the challenge.
All three bow ties represented some of the hardest puzzles I have undertaken in the last three years and I would like to explain why.
Tom Ford bow ties, whilst they look exceptional when they are merchandised, were in fact extremely difficult to tie as a standard self-tying bow tie. I have since learned that this is an in-joke amongst some of the well heeled brutes of Sydney, that in fact, when they see someone wearing a Tom Ford bow tie, they walk up and untie his bow tie so that he is then at a loss of how to get the bow back to it's original form. It's kind of like what women do to each other when they throw champagne on the other's dress.... fairly catty, but highly effective. Added to this insult is that there are blocks of foam inside the Tom Ford bows which, once they are dislodged, are very hard to put back into place.
So my morning was spent dissecting and analysing these bow ties and when I posted the two Tom Ford bow ties back to said CEO, I had a sense of relief. They didn't look at good as when he'd bought them and it was quite difficult to even tie them given the placement of the right arm hook, but I got there.
The Charvet pre-tied bow tie, however, was still a mystery. And it took me another 48 hours to work out how they had tied it. It was as fascinating as if I were playing with a Rubik's Cube for the first time. Did I turn it this way, did I push it that way, what hole did I poke it through, where did you attach the strap from?
My seamstress said to me "you are a twit, you should have brought it to me before you pressed it, I could have told you by the crease marks" , but it was too late and truthfully, I wanted the challenge.
Five years ago on a December night in a hotel room in midtown New York I cracked another secret of bow tie making and presentation, the act of tying a bow tie on a flat surface. , and not since then had I had such a Eureka moment.
As I often say to store staff when I teach them how to tie bow ties in different ways, once you master the skill, you can very near guarantee yourself a job in menswear retailing for the rest of your days.
As for how to tie the piece of silk below - I will leave it to our blog readers to work it out. And if you do, make an Instagram video and tag us. I'll send the best knotted one a free Yuzen silk bow tie on the house!