Neckwear at MRket

I had a lot of nice conversations with vendors on the first day of the MRket tradeshow in Las Vegas—the guys at Piloti, Sal Giardina from Jhane Barnes, Edo Popken, Laurie Aronson from Haspel, Gregor McCluskey from Braeval, and Richard Potapow from Cirrus Cashmere among them—but today’s blog will focus on ties.

I’ve found that despite the gloomy economy, people in the neckwear business are (with a few exceptions) remarkably cheerful. They’re experimenting a bit with materials, pushing knits, bringing regimental stripes back and finding inspiration outside the silk mills’ catalogs.

J.M. Dickens

My first neckwear stop at MRket was J.M. Dickens, the new label by the British Apparel Collection. Simon Mendez says that the brand was born from the private label at his parents’ Westchester, NY store, Dickens of London. Mendez, who also represents the sock line Punto, brought the Dickens label back as J.M. Dickens and runs it as a wholly-owned sock, scarf and tie company.

“It’s very traditional, very English,” Mendez says. The socks (retail $25), which are made in England, are woven on fine 120 gauge needles (most others are done on 96 gauge needles), so they’re very soft. The neckwear (retail $85-$95) and scarves ($85 and up) are made in Italy.

J.M. Dickens already has a huge assortment of neckwear choices. Prints wholesale for $26, wovens for $29.50 and knits for $30 and up. Pricing is one of the reasons Mendez chose to bring back his family’s label now. “Retailers want something that’s under $100 again,” he said, referring to ties.

Standard width is 9 cm (8cm for knits), but Mendez says he’s flexible. Some of the sharpest looking ties are his knits, which he’s offering in a pointed blade in addition to the traditional straight end.

While I was chatting with Mendez, I met two young new retailers, Michael Maher and Barrett Purdum. They’re working out of San Francisco on an internet retail concept aimed at educating younger men about fine clothing—supplying them with it.

Enzone Fashions

Next, I stopped by Enzone Fashions and talked to Chatsworth, Calif.-based owner and designer Rasool Allaudin. His ties, which wholesale for between $12 and $22, are made in China and Italy.

Allaudin likes to design his own patterns, so he doesn’t buy fabrics from the mills. I liked these vibrant designs for his Luciano Gatti label ($22 wholesale, made in Italy), which Allaudin tells me were inspired by Persian rugs. He’s also adding cufflinks.

Smart Turnout

After lunch, I spotted Smart Turnout at the end of the 800 aisle. I had meant to see them at the New York Collective—their first U.S. show—but I didn’t make it. The U.K.-based company has an interesting story: Founder Philip Turner had a sweater made in his Scots Guard regiment’s colors back in 1992 as he was nearing the end of his ten-year military service. After his service friends wanted sweaters of their own, he realized he had the makings of an apparel business. Now he specializes in regimental and university colors for sweaters, scarves, ties, and more.

Smart Turnout is mostly a mail order and retail business in England, but Turner is expanding his reach into America for wholesale. Their regimental ties are genuine enough that actual British military regiments do buy them. It may be gauche for a Brit who has never served in the armed forces to be seen wearing, say, a tie in the stripes of the King’s Royal Hussars, but no one will know here in America. Looking at Smart Turnout’s wholesale catalog, I’m dazzled by the colorful stripes of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. They must be a confident lot to wear such bright ties.

They also offer American college colors, but sometimes they end up being the same stripes as certain regimentals. The Household Division, for instance, happens to have the exact same tie as the University of Pennsylvania. Ties, which are 3.5 inches wide, wholesale for $20.

Smart Turnout’s sales directors Craig Baker and Jim Waddell tell me the brand got a big boost stateside after their regimental striped watch bands were featured in GQ: online sales of the bands ($12 wholesale for $25 retail) shot up to around 30-40 a day in January.

Format

I haven’t actually seen the new designs for Format by Bruce Mertz, but I did happen to run into Mr. Mertz in the aisles of MRket. The ever dapper Bruce Mertz will be at MAGIC with MMG, the new licensee for Format ties and socks.

J.S. Blank

I rushed over to visit Barbara Blank after I heard the buzz about her new velvet skinny ties for Talia Orange (retail $55 to $65). She has them made in her Manhattan factory by hand. “They’re very difficult to make,” she says with sympathy for her sewers.

They aren’t easy to tie, either. “They have to be worn with attitude,” she advises. That means no perfect Windsor with a proper dimple—wear it loose.

J.S. Blank is offering more knit ties now, something they predict will take off in the mainstream for fall.

Barbara’s assistant Alyssa Drago is trying to convince her to do some leather ties, an endeavor I whole-heartedly support.

Dion

Finally, I sat down with Peter Tsihlias of Dion Neckwear. I continue to be amazed at the luxuriousness of Dion’s silk robes. We had one in the office for a fashion shoot last year, and I couldn’t believe how heavy and thick it was. Tsihlias showed me one yesterday that wholesales for $800, which he says is a good deal. One retailer sold that style for more than $2,000.

Tsihlias sees a welcome shift in the way men dress. “People used to think, ‘if I have money, who cares how I dress,’” he says. “Now it’s the reverse. They don’t want to look like peasants anymore.” He’s even getting requests for ascots.

I liked his bowties (he suggests tying two together to get the contrasting effect shown here) and his linen pocket squares in particular.

With all this opulence in a time like this, one has to ask about pricing. He puts service and quality before price. “Price people forget,” Tsihlias says. “Service, they never forget.”

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