Thursday, December 20, 2007

Seven Fold Ties

Listen closely, my children, and you shall hear about the way ties used to be (at least if you believe the marketing literature put out by tie producers). Back in the olden days, ties used to me made from a single square of silk that was folded upon itself seven times to generate the distinctive tie shape -- there was no lining to bulk up the knot area, no acetate on the underside of the tie blade, nothing except the silk material of the shell. It took almost a square yard of silk to make the tie, but consumers saw the quality inherent in this way of production, and all was right with the world. But then the dastardly profit-seeking tie manufacturers invented an automatic tie-sewing machine that could produce ties from two different pieces of silk sewn together and folded three times around a wool lining, thus reducing the amount of silk and the amount of labor required to make a tie. And the public, seduced by the lower prices of such inferior ties, flocked to them and put the virtuous seven fold tiemakers out of business. It was only a matter of time before humanity had sunk to the depths of accepting 100% polyester ties. But a few years ago, a bold tiemaker named Robert Talbott decided to revive the ancient craft of seven fold tiemaking and managed to find two very old seamstresses who knew how to do it. And so today we have the opportunity to buy little pieces of history, for only $225 apiece.

The preceding paragraph sounds snarky, and it is. There are two things that bother me about the just-so seven fold tie story as it has been disseminated by Robert Talbott and others. First, there is the implicit assumption that more labor and more silk and less lining make for a better tie. But this isn't really the case. Consider the blade of the tie. In a standard, lined, three fold tie, the blade, just like the rest of the tie, has a lining; and this lining gives the blade heft and drape. The blade of the seven fold tie just has two layers of the shell fabric, which typically is not particularly heavy. It doesn't have the weight to drape well or to stay in place. Consider also the narrow part of the tie where the knot is tied. The folding process essentially results in this area of the tie being lined in several layers of silk, but a multi-layered silk lining is not necessarily the construction that results in the smoothest, best-looking tie knot. The second thing that bothers me about the seven fold tie story is that it reads, well, like a story. Remember that the tie as we understand it today is a relatively recent innovation, dating from the early part of the 20th Century. It seems very likely to me that the three fold method of construction was developed almost immediately after the modern tie came into being and that the story of those halcyon days when all ties were seven folds is a myth.

In any event, Robert Talbott did introduce the seven fold tie back into the American mass market a number of years ago and proved that it was possible to sell such a tie for two times the price that a standard three fold tie could bring. All of the silks that they use to produce seven fold ties are limited-edition (enough for 40 ties per pattern and colorway), and they all feature intricate jacquard-woven designs. I think that most of these designs are much, much too busy to be attractive, but there are some I like. These ties are widely distributed throughout the United States via large chains like Nordstrom and via independent men's stores. The picture above was taken from Hansen's Clothing, an independent store in Spencer, Iowa that has a significant online presence selling Talbott and other upscale brands.

Seeing Talbott's marketing success with the seven fold tie, a number of other companies have tried to get in on the business. Several Italian makers, including Kiton, sell ties that they call seven fold, even though they aren't folded seven times and they have a lining. These are perfectly good ties, and some are even excellent, but they are being improperly labeled. If you want a genuine seven fold tie (and you should try one at least once in your life -- some people prefer them to standard ties, and everyone's taste is different) and you don't like the flashiness of Talbott's offerings, consider some of the following sources:
  1. Sam Hober -- I have written about this company before. It's owned by David and Noina Hober, and all of its ties are bespoke, meaning that you can get whatever length, shape, and construction that you want. David doesn't usually recommend seven fold construction, but he will be more than happy to use it if that's what the client wants.
  2. Four In Hand -- Four In Hand is owned by Jonathan Fischer, and Jonathan carries quite a lot of ties, mostly of three fold construction. He has a small number of Italian-style "seven" folds (actually six folds) and honest-to-goodness seven folds in a few styles, though. He's also the best, most responsive online merchant that I have ever dealt with. He contracts with manufacturers in Italy for his ties -- he selects the silks, the lengths, and the methods of construction.
  3. Seaward & Stearn -- S&S was founded by two Turnbull & Asser ex-employees, and they have managed to take all the best that ever was about T&A neckwear and improve upon it. Most of their ties are standard three folds, but they do have some seven folds. I own one of the seven folds, and it's just like all of the others from other manufacturers that I have seen except that the blade is unusually narrow -- less than 3.5 inches wide. I don't know if this is just how they make their seven folds or if the retailer specified that width. S&S has a small distribution in the US through specialty stores, including Alex Kabbaz's online one, although their principal market is in Japan.

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