Do you know your batwing bow tie from your thistle? For those who do but feel that their interest in the hipster fad is at an end, Notting Hill’s style gurus tell us not to lose faith in the future of the neck accessory. ELLA HARRIS finds out
Men’s fashion has seen an astronomical transformation over the last few decades, with the bearded sex making a lot more effort with what they look like – and about time too. Gone are the days of bland and prescriptive jeans, t-shirts and suits being the staple of every male’s wardrobe; cupboards now hold a lot more vigour and individuality. More to the point, men are enjoying choosing which shirt will match what pair of trousers without breaking out into a cold sweat.
According to Euromonitor, in 2013 sales of menswear increased more rapidly than its female counterpart, with global sales growing just short of five per cent. This demand is met eagerly by brands across the board to tailor fashion for the double-breasted suitwearing gentleman, the rockers, the hipsters and, of course, Notting Hill’s elite. With this has come the need to accessorise; the mix and match nature of menswear, with ties and blazers worn with vests as well as shirts,
Men are enjoying choosing what to wear without breaking out into a cold sweat
has meant that the neck accessory has felt more at home on the male body than ever before. Euromonitor note that novelty items like pocket squares and bow ties have found a niche in the male market who want to emphasise their personal style, with ties increasing by 3.7% in 2013 in the US, outperforming overall menswear.
But when did this menswear revolution begin? Men have always had it in them to be unwitting fashionistas – take the classic bow tie enthusiasts, Charlie Chaplin in the 20s and Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill in the 40s. However, it got a whole lot more spiky a few decades later with the modernists striving against the straitjacket of the mature elite who had been dictating the fashion trends up until that point. The mods wanted vibrancy and definition in their clothes, which would enable them to express themselves as dividuals. This peacock revolution was the opposition to uniformity, celebrating colour, experimentation and standout confidence. Since this change from one extreme of conformity to the other of revolution, men are now mixing and matching conservative and edgy styles for a true expression of character.
The bow tie in particular has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, so much so that when Matt Smith started on Doctor Who, Topshop recorded a 94 per cent increase in sales for their bow tie collection. Since then, other than as the pièce de résistance for a tuxedo, it has become the staple for hipsters who wear the waistcoat, beard and pipe to match. Dividing time between Notting Hill and Devon, Willow & Warson has played with this popularity and revamped the iconic fashion piece into a beautifully hand-crafted wooden accessory. In a creative twist on a classic bow tie, owners and designers, Tim Brenninkmeijer and Theo Andrews, create organic pieces out of eight different types of salvaged and reclaimed wood for the fashion and sustainability conscious. “I love how each one has its own distinctive character,” explains Tim, “even if from the same piece of wood. No two bow ties will ever look alike, given the nature of how the grain, natural colour and texture varies across one piece of timber.” Their appreciation for tradition and progression allows the brand to exist in a sphere of its own in an ever-changing fashion market, offering a diverse and versatile product from plywoods and walnuts, soon to include cufflinks in September.
If you’re worried that this look is just reserved for band members from The Klaxons and you follow the writings of journalist and stylist Dan Rookwood that “some men can look cool in [bow ties]; most don’t. The odds are not in your favour”, then it may be more suitable to move from quirky to conservative.
Not all bow tie lovers are rockers; David Gandy and Idris Elba show a penchant for the classic but contemporary look. Duchamp has this nailed; it has kept the classical etiquette of the bow tie but has got creative with ornate patterns and startling colours. The brand started out in Notting Hill but is now stocked internationally and tailors bright and beautiful zig zags, florals and polka dots, from thin knitted pieces to geometric prints. It is a British brand with strong traditions; all ties are handmade in England and fabric is woven by a company in Suffolk that dates back to the early 1700s.
Although sales in the bow tie have dipped more recently, Gianni Colarossi, the Creative Director of Duchamp, says that this doesn’t mean the fad has passed. “Its popularity in recent years has made the bow tie more accessible to a younger generation. There are some amazing fabrics and silks being used in bows – they are an intriguing accessory.” Designers are not letting go of this chance to refashion this quirky craze as Henry Graham, CCO of Wolf & Badger on Ledbury Road, has noticed. “I am seeing more and more designers making accessory collections with only bow ties and pocket squares,” he says, “whereas, previously, designers would never have made a men’s accessory collection without a traditional tie.” One of the brands stocked there is Louise & Zaid who has seen a 20 per cent increase this year alone for men who are still substituting ties with a bow.
Although bow ties may have cast a long shadow over other neck accessories, there is still lenty of interest in the simple, straight tie; although simple might not be relevant anymore. Patterns, silk knit, wool knit, skinny and fat; there are an abundance of options to match a shirt (although, the details on these logistics are so precise they are best left to another article). Experimentation with materials has been particularly
“You should never use clip-ons, unless you are a small child, in which case it is excusable”
prevalent; Salvatore Ferragamo and Marc Jacobs showcased matching tie and shirt prints of grazing giraffes and pink flamingos at the S/S 15 Milan and Pitti Uomo shows. Henry Graham applauds this innovation.
“I have seen some really great ties being made from beautiful materials traditionally associated with women’s fashion, such as lace,” he says. Although, he adds, “If you are going to wear a tie or bow tie you should learn how to tie one, unless you are small child, in which case it is excusable.”
The tie was originally a modification of the cravat around the 19th century but history has recently been reversed at London Collection: Mens, which saw the attention hit back to cravat. However, others off the runway are yet to be persuaded; “Cravats were certainly on show,” says Colarassi, “but I’m yet to be convinced if we will see them as the next big thing.” Whether you are in agreement or not, brushing up on your double fisherman’s and rolling hitch knots will stand you in good stead for tying up scarfs for one season at least and a plethora of outdoor pursuits after that.
These choices may leave brains reeling as men decide what to don for a day out, but no matter how they like to wear their tie – in a bow, knit or knot – just remember to do it with conviction; as Oscar Wilde once wrote: “Sentiment is all very well for the button-hole. But the essential thing for a necktie is style. A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life.”