Bow Ties Sydney, Australia - Le Noeud Papillon - Specialists In Self Tying Bow Ties

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Snowy Mountains High - The Mid Winter Beacon Of Light

When he first came to the mountains his life was far away
On the road and hanging by a song
But the string's already broken and he doesn't really care
It keeps changing fast and it don't last for long
But the Snowy Mountains makes him high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Snow Mountains high.... (Thredbo)
(With reference to John Denver)

Nothing quite turns me on like a great solitary car trip with great music and fresh country air. I have been driving through country Australia since I was a late teen but perhaps the years when I did the most kilometres were at University whilst I pursued a degree in agricultural economics. They were heady days of either deep winters and frozen fingers or of moleskin trousers and screaming down the highway listening to Paul Simon, hot winds and dry sweat.

The other morning as I drove towards the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales I remembered fondly those same drives and how much they had evolved. Back in those days you had to make fresh CD's regularly so that they wouldn't skip and the book in which you held all your CD's was as important as your luggage, stowed usually in the front passenger seat. There was one such journey on the Narrandera road near Wagga Wagga in the peak of summer, cockatoos congregating on the side of the road, hot dry air blasting through the window onto sunburnt forearms and the bouncing rhythm of Graceland blaring on the speakers.

The Mississippi Delta was shining 
Like a National guitar 
I am following the river 
Down the highway 
Through the cradle of the civil war 
I'm going to Graceland 
In Memphis Tennessee 
I'm going to Graceland 
Poor boys and pilgrims with families 
And we are going to Graceland 
My traveling companion is nine years old 
He is the child of my first marriage 
But I've reason to believe 
We both will be received 
In Graceland

And it was this very same song that I listened to, twenty years later, as I shot down the highway heading towards Thredbo this week, excited by the prospect of skiing fresh powder that had just fallen the night before. 

There is something so unique about our Snowy Mountains and I have never really been quite able to explain what that is. In part I would suggest that it is the Alpine Ash eucalyptus trees which I believe are not found in any other Alpine region. They have a manner in which they are suspended that is hauntingly beautiful and when they are laden with snow they remind me of Japanese wood block prints, as though their graduated trunk and ornate shapes of branches and leaves could only be interpreted and understood by a Japanese artisan's deft incisions of his bespoke carving tools. It could also be the drama of the landscape that leads into those mountains that form the Kosciuszko National Park. Prior to entering the mountains the landscape is sort of like a high plain of undulating land which seems to be dotted with large granite boulders and trees which look somewhat haunted, looking more like the marking of a burial site than something which offers life. It is a forbidding landscape almost all year round.

These moments, especially when I am on my own, offer up some of the most peaceful and joyful moments of solitude that I have found. It's in fact one of the reasons I romanticise about the country so much. I am certain that living there my problems would not go away - but to leave the city and go for a drive in the country invariably decompresses me. 

This time as I drove in I had found a new song to listen to and it was fast becoming a song which might define this winter for myself. I had, one night a few weeks back, watched Martin Scorcese's documentary 'The Waltz' on Netflix. And one performance stuck out a great deal. It was Joni Mitchell's 'Coyote' which had instantly grabbed me and for a week or two it has a significant grip on me.

Now, twenty years later as I drove down the highway, my phone was cabled to my aux slot, bluetooth enabled and streaming 4g data from my Spotify on an excessively large data plan. How heady. How times had changed. And this is what I heard:

No regrets Coyote
We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
And you're up early on your ranch
You'll be brushing out a brood mare's tail
While the sun is ascending
And I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel
There's no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get
And still feel so alone
And still feel related
Like stations in some relay
You're not a hit and run driver, no, no
Racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

It was like a solid meal for the soul. 

If you haven't listened to Joni Mitchell or Paul Simon for a while, if you haven't taken a drive through the country or put some skis on and tore down the mountain side, I highly recommend all of the above. You will decompress and I promise you your soul will be reinvigorated.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Getting Nudes Right For Silk

One of the hardest things to get right in creating a new silk design is what will and won't work in the confines of either a bow tie or a pocket square. Getting this right is so important. It's not an oil on canvas, so you can't get the kinds of graduation and tonality as you get in the Tamara De Lempicka's 'Musician' below. Instead you are chasing simplicity and defined lines and colours.

I was not trained in textiles and so this has become my hardest obstacle in pursuing this as a business. I have taste but often I lack the conversion skills in both illustrator and in hand drawing that allows you to express yourself in an exacting manner. 

More importantly, fabric is not a blank canvas on which you can paint. Each form of textiles, be it digital, screen or weaving is constrained. Even yuzen silks, which are perhaps the ones that leave themselves most open to individual interpretation, are constrained by stencils. 

All this I write because there is one thing that has always remained elusive for me creatively, and that is the female form. 

Tamara De Lempicka's 'Musician' . 

Where's My Suit Roy?

I was warned that Roy was his own worst enemy prior to entering his tailoring and alterations shop on Union Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York.

Zalman, the owner of a made to measure tailoring outfit from that area, had offered me to come back to Crown Heights for a different experience. Previously he has chaperoned me around to the local Jewish tailors who knocked out traditional kapotes, this time he offered to take me to a tailor that could knock out a suit in 7 days of a great quality at a very modest price.

I thought this would be a great piece for the blog but I didn't need a new suit. I had to think for a bit about what possible suit I did not have. I had just made two for the window of our Studio in Sydney and I really didn't plan to make another until spring. But it sounded like such a good blog post....

I immediately put in an order for wool from Barrington Fabrics to be shipped to Crown Heights. It was one of those international moments where you are on whatsapp talking to the UK on one time zone, I was in Los Angeles myself, and Zalman was in New York. These are the times when I feel like Jason Bourne and I love business. Dynamic, hustling, typing ferociously so that everyone can meet their goal.

Then when I walked into Roy's everything was reset. Roy wasn't going to be pushed around, this was his shop, his rules. Zalman told me that when Roy went to work he got stuck into it with the kind of relish you'd expect from Zorba the Greek, but just like Zorba, when his mind was no longer on work, nothing could drag him away from his other pursuits. I was told that sometimes Roy would go in there and get stuck into some rum and either come out at the end of it with a fantastic suit, or else you would hear him and his buddies laughing and arguing all night - and it was anyone's guess which one it would be.

Inside Roy's it was spartan. Those old timber slat walls, decor that hadn't been changed in decades, a time warp back to the 70's. There were strange characters coming and going every few minutes and an odd chap that was sort of an assistant, sort of just there to watch the old television that was above Roy. The noise from the television made it hard for us to communicate but when we asked for it to be turned down, nobody could find the remote control and the old volume button on the set wasn't working.

I tried to ask Roy about his life but he seemed like a man of few words. Zalman told me he used to be a boxer and when he stopped fighting he picked up a needle and thread. He certainly had the stature of a boxer and the look of someone whose joints caused him pain and frustration.

The suit was supposed to be ready after a week but I couldn't wait long enough after the first fitting for it to be collected. I paid Zalman the money and told him to ship it to me when it was ready. "This is where it can go wrong with Roy. Once his focus on the suit is no longer on it, it could be weeks before he picks it up again. I will stay on him for you".

Zalman did stay on him. But Roy, he works to the beat of his own drum, and what might be good for him, may not be right for some....

I learned a few things from this experience. Roughly it is this - the best custom tailor in the world is one that resides in the nearest city to where you live. Second, never rush a custom made tailoring experience. You will lose every time. Thirdly, never get greedy when it comes to making suits. There must always be a reason or a season as to why you will be getting anything new made.

I received a text a few days ago saying Roy and Zalman had fallen out about the suit. Roy was not going to be told when to finish it. He now sits on my money and my cloth and is in total control of both the quality of the finish as well as the delivery date. I could ring Roy and start a screaming match but he keeps a very big sign on his fitting mirror "NO INDECENT LANGUAGE" , so I doubt my call would last more than five seconds.

Oh, and I learned one more rather grotesque thing - I am going bald. Zalman, doing his best to capture the detail of my shoulders, managed to secure a rather awful angle that ordinarily I'd not have seen myself. Not every tailoring experience is fruitful and blessed. I am grateful that I had fun on this one regardless. And I hope that one evening soon Roy picks up a bottle of rum and finishes my suit.

Work In Progress - The Three Parcae By A Newly Unearthed Artist

I have an artist friend of mine who gets very upset with me when I don't name a new artist. He has a doctorate in fine arts, so I am not doubting that he has his reasons to be upset with me.

However, my experience is the moment that you tell everyone your trade secrets you are soon to lose your competitive advantage. One former illustrator of ours, Dick Carroll, now works for The Armoury in New York and I noticed that within a few weeks of being employed there he was sketching away for them in between selling suits and shirts.

In another instance, a chap who had done some graphic design for me in Sydney was visiting a tailor when he announced that he had designed a few silks for us. The first question the tailor asked after my graphic designer stopped bragging was "where does he get his silk" . In turn this caused a rupture between myself and the graphic designer who one week later announced that he simply refused to do another design for me without having direct access to the loom.

The old Greek adage, once relayed to me by an Irish Catholic who was enamoured with the merchant Greek class, was that the secret to success in business was to hold your supplier and your customer very close, but to make sure the two never met. The truth is, it's not that hard to find a silk loom. It's not that hard to make a bow tie either. But it's the relationships that you forge between your loom, your seamstresses, your graphic designers, your artists, your freight companies, your landlord and, most importantly, your customers, that keep you in business.

That is why the other night, when an illustration artist sent through his first sketches for my new pocket square and I was blown away with the first sketches, I asked him to come up with a pseudonym. For those of you who have read the blog for a while, you'll know that Carlos Oppenheimer is a pseudonym for a friend of mine who is the director of a public company and whose name can't be mentioned along side a running commentary on menswear and fashion. I love a good pseudonym - so I left it with said artist to tell me his when he felt he had found something he was happy with.

The work, which is based on the three fates, the Roman 'parcae' will take some inspiration from Greek mythology, something from Gauguin, a little from the graphic artist Dave Smith, and a touch of impressionism. Our aim was to continue on that theme we spoke about a few blog posts ago - that infatuation I had with the idea that our live's are like woven yarn; spun, measured and cut off by three fates. It makes me think of quilts, fabric, spinners, artisans and, most of all, women. My relationship with women has always been complex and most men would be reluctant to admit to it, but a part of me fears and dreads women.

They are beautiful and whimsical, they are ever-changing, never fixed in one spot. Rarely do we understand them. Most of us men are ruled by them from cradle to grave. I spent my formative years trying to dodge my mother's relentless nagging and reminders. Then later as an adult you spend your best years believing that you are in a desperate need to find the right sort of woman so you can marry and settle down - only she becomes just as domineering as your mother. Later still you have your own daughter and you think perhaps now, with this innocence in front of you, that you understand women and their role in your life. But it doesn't take long for her to learn the ropes and pretty soon you are running around to meet her needs too.

And so, for a simple man mind like mine, prone to conspiracy theories and easily distracted by story over fact, it's quite alluring to think that your entire fate is in the hands of three whimsical women who spin, measure and cut off your life.

We men, we think we are kings and that is our folly. We work for women our entire lives and as much as we enslave women, they enslave us back - they just play a longer and more thought out game. We are kings of a lifetime, they are the queens down through the ages of ages.

Here are the first sketches of the three parcae - and yes, my ilustrator has been informed that he was missing an 'r' on the banner.

Once the sketch is complete the artist will vectorise the entire picture, lay down colours and then it will go to the printers where, depending on the complexity and prices, we will choose between a digital and a screen printed process. Fingers crossed, this will be one of those pocket squares you keep forever.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

New Silks Are Arriving Each Week Along With New Shapes That We Are Working On - Bow Ties Galore It Seems!

Much of the silk that has been arriving these past few weeks is the culmination of working directly with my contacts in Italy over coffee and bottles of fizzy water to try and find ways to deliver more vibrancy to our silks. Looking at warps and wefts and working out which warps and which structure of making a silk will deliver the best result for our limited edition designs is not something that is clear cut. We rejected two silks, something we rarely do, because they didn't show the design up well enough. Sometimes, if you choose the wrong warp and weft, you can get a scratchiness in a silk and the colour comes out lacking lustre and depth.

It's for this reason that a lot of silk designers don't deviate too much from standard classics where they roughly know the lie of the land. In that instance, take a pin head for example, one only needs to change the colours the following season based on the new warp colours available.

But then there are the unique designs we run, like the tiger below, or the virus centre. Both are exceptionally different which means that you run a greater risk when realising them that either you lose definition in the design, or you lose richness and lustre in the ground. As these designs are very much unlike anything else that the loom is weaving at the moment, it can perplex the technicians and in some instances, the samples come back and are rejected.

In between these limited edition silks we also work on existing silk weaves in plain colours which are often already sampled by the loom. New garza and grenadine weaves that arrived this week, for example, are not designed by us. These solids are usually developed by the loom each year with only the colour changing depending on new thread colours and warps that are being offered. This is the usually the easiest part of any buying trip - when it's merely the weight and handle of the silk along with the visual and sensory texture of the silk which decides it's fate. 

The beneficiaries of these explorations are our customers. Where once you might have seen four bow ties in a collection each season from a brand, now we are able to build a collection once a week, post them online by Friday afternoon and be sold out by Monday. 

It is a wonder whether the consumer does appreciate this? I can recall that not ten years ago you could not find a self-tying bow tie of any reputable quality on the internet. The companies that did produce silks did so once every six months. There was no opportunity to order a different shape other than what they told you you could have. Neck ties weren't that different either.

These days a silk arrives on Monday morning. By Tuesday afternoon it has been cut and is almost sewn. By Wednesday it's in a Fedex bag. By Friday it's in New York. 

What a wonderful world for consumers it has become!

The Conservative Tie I Still Grapple With

A few weeks back when I had the privilege of being in front of the cloth design team at Vitale Barberis Canonico, a company which makes over 10 million metres of cloth each year,  I was interested to know what exactly the designer's designers wear?

The designer's designer? That was the expression used by G Bruce Boyer to describe the role of VBC in the fashion industry. The designer offers you a new cut of suit each year, but mostly they don't get to design their own cloth, it's up to the team at Vitale Barberis Canonico who put together seasonal cloths which get picked up by designers who then knock them into suits, jackets, skirts, overcoats and more.

So when I met Michele Papuzzo below, a conservative man in his forties, salt and peppered hair, a melange wool suit - I was interested to see that his choice of shirt was a conservative windsor collar Oxford weave in white with a double four in hand knotted tie in the most conservative silk. 

The designer's designer was not like the designer - he was far more measured in his approach to fashion. And it kind of made sense. When you are in charge of designing 10 million metres of cloth, you are not likely to be staying too long in business if you go long in canary yellow and electric blue like some designers might (guess who don't sue). 

As for the tie - I had mixed feelings. It so suited Michele but as I travelled Italy and the silk mills I have this funny feeling towards Italian silk designers who never ever ever deviate from these conservative designs and colours. On the one hand, I appreciate that it looks refined, neat and tidy. On the other, I wish someone would shake up those Italians and tell them to stop trying to look so conservative all the time. 

A few days later I was at a wedding expo in Milan looking at all sorts of makers and designers who were pitching at grooms and groomsmen across Europe with regards to the menswear on display. Now the pendulum was totally on the other end of the spectrum, brazen, gaudy, over the top. Vibrant polymer based designed fabrics on jackets, bright patent leathers, silky trousers. 

This was Italy, two diametrically opposed cultures operating in one theatre. And what was in the middle was usually boring and lacking in enthusiasm.

This is how I feel about neck ties and what I still grapple with. For me, it is still an area of menswear that I have not really found my groove. I have found wearing a tie like the one below makes me feel like I have grown old before my time. But when I go for something too vibrant I feel like I am lacking in sophistication.

I am a bow tie guy, first and foremost. But I like neck ties. And the one thing that is still exciting for me is that long neck ties are still very much unchartered waters for myself.