A decade in business! Who would have ever thought. I recall a Woody Allen documentary where at the end of the interview he says something along the lines of 'I had wanted to be a comedian and I set out to do that and I became famous for it, I wanted to make films and I managed to do that too. And finally I wanted to be a clarinet player in a band and I did that too - but as I approach death, I still can't help but feel I'm being ripped off'. And sometimes I feel the same. I have achieved so much from a small idea and really not the faintest idea on how to achieve it, and through a decade of refining and redefining I managed to keep the ship upright (though there have been many times when I was ready to throw in the towel). And just like Woody, I set out to make the best bow ties, and I am sure we are near enough to allow myself that accolade. I had wanted to be a writer originally and now I am being published in Robb Report - well, it's not The Great Gatsby as I thought - but it's close enough for the time being. And, I wanted to create art along the way, and in that respect, the silks are often in that vein. But, just like Woody, as my hair thins out, as life shows more signs of wear and tear and the stamina and enthusiasm can sometimes peter out, the creativity comes to a stand still, well, I can't help but feel somewhat ripped off.
It is our 10th Anniversary and I will share with you a small tid bit from when we started. I walked into a tailor in the city of Sydney and I said to him 'can you make me a bow tie the way I want it' and reluctantly he agreed and I drew a shape and asked for black satin silk and white piping. He charged me an enormous amount at the time. Probably the price we now charge for bespoke bow ties but ten years ago and very ordinary fabric. And when I picked it up I was really happy to see it come to life. So I said 'do you want to make a line of bow ties with me and I will split the business with you and I will do all the work to sell them, you just make them'. And he said - NO. Firmly. Not interested. And the only reason I went to see him was because there was such a rotten selection of bow ties in our then doyen of retail - David Jones. Nothing but polyester crap. Bow ties were so far off the menu that I had the whole market to myself if I chose to develop it. And so I did. And the beautiful thing was, I had been developing websites for clients on the side, so I thought to myself, why not put these online whilst nobody else is doing it - and see what happens. Then, by chance, we got picked up by the Wall Street Journal and the American menswear writer Will Boehlke, and we were on our way.
But like any journey, it has its ups and downs and to be frank, those first years I was really pushing shit up hill. No men wanted to own a bow tie, let alone tie one themselves. No men I knew were spending much time on their wardrobes, no bespoke tailors, no blogs analysing the styles of each tailor around the world, no MTM services existed like they do today, Instagram was yet to emerge, nobody knew who Lino Ieluzzi or Luca Rubinacci was, nor did they know anything about Pitti Uomo. It was just a totally different landscape. But as each new medium emerged we jumped on it and slowly we built, especially with Instagram, a fraternity of bow tie enthusiasts. And by this time we had a strong set of American customers, many of which are still with us today.
This year, in March, I suffered a huge crisis. I was totally worn out and I just wanted to break free of everything I had worked so hard for. It all seemed to me to have no meaning since the mother of my child and I had chosen to live apart. And there are often times, especially during the quiet times, that you question whether you made the right choices and if you are content with your purpose in life. But in those darker moments I sought help and I got back into regular exercise on Bondi Beach in the morning, ocean swims almost every morning at six. I formed a routine for cutting silks and processing orders and I started to lift my chin up and see the world for all it had to offer rather than the reverse.
At the point where I started to regain my enthusiasm for what we did, I reached out to Philip Carr who is a bow tie customer, a friend and an extraordinary events planner. Would he be interested in working on our 10th Anniversary and my birthday concurrently with the theme of a Roast a la Dean Martin and Don Rickles? We decided on a venue, the Centennial Hotel, which had a long dining table, and slowly the elements started to come together. I asked Mark Travers to come back from Thredbo to play his cover songs on guitar. I reached out to Michael Hope (another bow tie customer) from David Jones' ground floor to see if he would play piano. I also called Dominic Lorrimer who shot me for the Australian Financial Review last year to see if he was free on a Wednesday night. Yes. Then Peter Howard to see if he could paint me a portrait for the evening. Then one morning, still mulling over an MC, I saw Vince Sorrenti, the superlative comedian (also a bow tie customer) walk past the Studio and I asked him if he was right to do the MC job, and to my surprise, he said yes.
And it was all these elements coming together along with the professional service of Megan Sullivan at Merivale that made it one of the most special nights of my life along with ten wonderful roasts which were roughly 2 minutes in length each and tempered by a huge gong brought in by my cousin. Of those roasts, three were particularly well crafted and left the audience in hysterics and I was charred black by the roasting. But, as I wrote on my Facebook wall, after forty years of overeating, I had developed a thick skin.
There are markers in your life that sometimes are in a grey area, at some point you stopped being a teenager and became an adult. For me, turning forty in the manner that I did seemed to really punctuate the closure of my thirties.
A wiser man than me listened to my diatribe a month or two ago as I said 'I feel like I am having a mid life crisis, I'm half way to 80' . He turned to me and said 'it's arrogant to think you should make it to 80. There's no guarantee of how long you have left, make the most of every day.' He was right. It reminded me of our Three Parcae pocket square.
But, in a small moment of self-praise, I wrote in my journal the other day, contrary to so many pages of self-loathing that had been written over the past year, that I had turned a fantasy into a reality. I had built something for our customers that was different. Markedly. And whether from this point onwards I fail, if I die a nasty death, if I should fall into despair again, I am proud of the last ten years and that we (and I include in that statement my customers, friends, family and supporters) created a bow tie company that was more like a fraternity. Those Pink Floyd lyrics go:
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say
But at least for this last decade, I cannot say they hold true. I am grateful. For the time not being misspent. For those that read our blog. For those that helped us along the way. For those people that were willing to share their stories and photos with us. For the men who tagged us when they wore their outfits wearing our bow ties. For the silk mills who worked with us instead of turning me away. For the seamtresses that sewed our bow ties and for those that taught me how to hand-stitch. For the psychologist that helped me through the times when I didn't think I knew what the hell I was doing. For being blessed with such a beautiful daughter. For her mother who is such a good influence on her. For the friends who propped me up when I was self-flagellating. And for every person that helped to make last Wednesday night such a special night. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.