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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Drums of Passion

Cuban-born architect-turned-clothing designer Daniel de Fasson makes a point of making luxurious ties: they are two inches longer than the norm and a full four inches wide, and the lining is made of heavy wool wrapped in satin. The difference is palpable; this tie handles and lies flat like no other I've worn. For all the quality of the construction, though, I must admit that most of his graphic designs are not my style. But this one I do find inspired and inspiring; the large circles remind me of African drum heads, and the overall pattern evokes mainstream culture's first forays into international "exotica," of which Babtunde Olatunji's 1960 album Drums of Passion is a prime example. Exotica enjoyed a renewed vogue in the late 90s, with popular CD reissues of Martin Denny, Esquivel, Les Baxter, and Arthur Lyman albums, neo-lounge creations of bands such as Combustible Edison, and new(ish) world music combos like African Head Charge. So that's the kind of music I hear in my head while wearing this tie, and I like it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hall of Fame tie: Greg Otto's Baltimore

Greg Otto is known for his vividly-colored paintings of Baltimore buildings and landmarks, many of which have been made into very popular postcards. Baltimore's three most famous towers are collected on this tie that was sold through the now-defunct seven-site Baltimore City Life Museums. The most visible of the sites was the Morton K. Blaustein Exhibition Center (now known as The Fava Building), which provides the windows and facade for this tie. "Reflected" in the windows are, from bottom to top, The Shot Tower, The Bromo-Seltzer Tower, and The Washington Monument. When I worked in Baltimore, I would see every one of these towers on my daily commute; and if you make even the briefest excursion into downtown Baltimore, you are bound to see at least one of them (most likely the Bromo-Seltzer Tower). For a tie guy, this is the ultimate Baltimore souvenir, and thus it is part of my permanent collection.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Caveman Modern

Or, what would happen if NASA scientists got together at a Tiki bar in 1960 to re-engineer the animal skin print? The 50's and 60's seem to have been a fertile period in the creation of designs that were at once primitive and modern. Today's tie is glorious, woven, 100% polyester from D'Zio. There are interesting patterns woven into the gold shapes, which may be barely visible in the large version of the picture. I have the same tie in a magenta and pink palette as well!

And as for primitive, I just discovered a Mexican firm called Piñeda Covalin (Flash site) that makes textile goods (including ties, of course) featuring ancient Mexican and Central and South American patterns, and more contemporary art as well.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Black and white

I'm a little late in getting this one up, because I was busy last night seeing Duncan Sheik at the Birchmere! Awesome show!

After Tuesday's color overdose I decided to take it easy on Wednesday and go with plain black and white. The tie is by J.T. Beckett, about whom I know nothing except that they make all right deco ties, and the occasional op art stunner like this one. Any mention of op art should also include something about Verner Panton and Victor Vasarely, but I'm saving them for other ties.

The jacket is a silk sportcoat by Bert Pulitzer, best known for his XMI Neckwear company.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

One of a kind

Whoa, do you see that? How could you miss it? The shirt is a five-dollar clearance item from Burlington Coat Factory (not affiliated with Burlington Industries), but the real story, as always, is the tie. Artist/designer Jenny Lee-Katz created eight unique neckties based on traditional African motifs, which she auctioned on eBay to benefit The Pendulum Project, a non-profit organization that provides food, water, shelter, and medical care to children orphaned by AIDS. I was lucky enough to win one of those ties, and here it is. This design is Ese Ne Tekrema - “the teeth and the tongue”- of which Lee-Katz writes: "Symbol of friendship and interdependent roles in the mouth. They may come into conflict, but they need to work together." Adaptive Textiles of West Chester, PA, donated printing and production services. The keeper is signed by the designer. So to sum up: a tie with a great design, that happens to symbolize an admirable sentiment, in fantastic colors, for a worthy cause, by a talented artist, signed, and one of a kind! Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, this one's a keeper.

To learn more about Jenny Lee-Katz's tie auction, you can read her press release.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Lea Lucibella for Robert Daskal

Robert Daskal employs a small army of artists creating hand-painted neckties for just about every taste; my taste runs to bold, colorful geometrics like this one by Lea Lucibella (every Daskal tie is signed on the back by the artist). I also like the designs of J. Bowers Mueller and Larry Hope. The designs are not "unique" except for variations in execution; they are "mini-mass-produced" by each artist on a long roll of silk, then cut and sewn in the Daskal Chicago workshop. There is a page about the Daskal tie creation method here, including an interesting video. There is also a lot to look on on the current ties pages, though the artists are not credited anywhere that I can find. I have a few more Daskal ties, awaiting the proper alignment of cosmic forces and clean laundry to be worn.

If you are interested in painting on silk yourself, Dharma Trading Co. seems to be the most comprehensive online supplier of fabric, paints, dyes, resists, frames, and most important of all, instructions. They sell blank ties for painting, too. Maybe I will even get around to it someday.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

From the archives

This vintage beauty by German tie maker Alpi is long gone, but I have kept a picture and fond memories. Alpi's particular eccentricity is a small metal fob with the Alpi logo that hangs down just below the point. If you look at their products page, you will see the fob on every necktie model! They seem to focus on the corporate tie market, but still produce new original designs every year as well. This tie combines the bold, simple geometry of mod designs with the 1970s fad for banded brocade ties, a fad which produced a lot of hideous neckwear but in this case worked out quite well.

Friday, August 19, 2005

I see London

Yeah, baby! A London shirt with a Liberty of London floral tie! Visiting London in 2003, I was amazed at all the men in suits wearing shirts of intense blue, purple, and even stripes; I had to get some too. So I picked up this shirt at Moss, and a few more at House of Fraser. It's a bummer that neither store does online sales, but the Fraser site is currently displaying a killer tie from new label Browns and Brooklane (item #4).

It's always a challenge to find the right tie to go with one of these shirts (without wearing a solid--ack!), but if you have enough ties then something's bound to match. Of course now that I've worn this tie, I'll need to find another one.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Fantastic Voyage

I call this one Fantastic Voyage because it looks like something you might see if you were shrunk down to microscopic size and injected into a human bloodstream, as in the 1966 movie. What could have been a simple diagonal grid pattern in black, pink, and magenta attains biological weirdness with the pink sections being woven in vertical striated patterns (like muscles), and the magenta being doled out in bacillus (or platelet?) shapes; click on the picture to see the details better (warning: eye-popping moiré effect from the pink-and-white twill shirt). This tie is by Carnaval de Paris, "Woven in FRANCE" of 100% polyester. The black background is quite shiny! Luckily, it is a very reasonable 4" wide and easy to wear: voila!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


This Italian-made silk tie (made by whom, I don't know, there is no label) looks like it's straight out of the idealized cartoon Paris of Pepe Le Pew or The Pink Panther, a style recently revived to great effect by California artist Josh "Shag" Agle. Frankly, I think this tie is every bit as good as the two ties that Shag himself has designed (for Acme Studio). Now that I've mentioned it, check out all the cool ties from Acme here.

But back to this tie--it makes me want to drink a leisurely bottle of Beaujolais (and there's another tie story there, but for a later date) at a sidewalk cafe, then go to a cabaret, then zoom around on a Vespa scooter with a baguette in the front basket and crash into a fountain, to emerge soaking wet and somewhat abashed but with my hands full of coins. Vive la difference!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Three shades of drab

I bought this tie because I liked the bold geometric pattern. The colors, however, are not so hot: light olive drab and dark olive drab. I didn't do the tie any favors by wearing it with a medium olive drab shirt, either. Still, the drab-on-drab-on-drab ensemble perfectly captured the mood of the gray, rainy day that was today.

This tie is obviously vintage, but has no labels at all left on it, so it must go uncredited. The material is man-made, maybe something exotic like Rhodia Acetate. The pattern is woven (as opposed to printed), and the threads are heartier than silk; most woven silk ties will snag on the first wearing, whereas this warhorse has been through many years without a single snag. Utilitarian, indestructible, attractive from a certain point of view, it's the Dodge Dart of ties. I'll try for something more colorful tomorrow.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Desert Designs

From what I have been able to piece together, Desert Designs was founded in the mid-1980s by David Wroth and Stephen Culley in Fremantle, Australia, for the purpose of producing and marketing textiles featuring designs by indigenous Australian Jimmy Pike. Culley had met Pike at Fremantle Prison: Pike was an inmate taking art classes from Culley. Desert Designs was a success, Jimmy Pike was released from prison in early 1987, and went on to a very successful art career, becoming one of Australia's most beloved artists. He died in November, 2002.

This is not a Jimmy Pike tie, though; it's by Doris Gingingara (1946-1999), one of two other Aboriginal artists (the other being Clifford Possum) whose work Desert Designs licensed and reproduced on textiles. Her work is the most colorful of the three. This tie features lizards against an abstract background pattern; there is a wonderful rhythm to the colors. (As always, you can click on the picture to view a larger version.)

Sydney-based Rainbow Serpent has several Jimmy Pike Desert Designs ties for sale in their online store, though I can't vouch for how current the website is. It's worth a look, though, as there are a bunch of other neat ties there too.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Not safe for work

This Albert Nipon tie is one of the best Art Deco ties I've ever seen; it is reminiscent but not imitative of the ubiquitous work of the King of Art Deco Design, Erté. The central "queen" has three courtesans suspended from each arm, all depicted using the Art Deco staples of opulence and angularity. But what really elevates this tableau to the sublime is the sinuous golden smoke rising above the party, mysterious and Mephistophelean. What a great touch! Unfortunately, I can't wear this tie to work, because the tiny courtesans are topless! The women in the chorus line across the top of the tie are topless as well. (Click on the image to see a larger version, if you wish.) I don't want to do anything that might create a Hostile Work Environment, so I must refrain from any display of naked female anatomy on my clothing at work. Naked male anatomy too, for that matter. But this tie deserves an audience, so here it is! I guess I'll have to wait for another wedding to wear it. (I would love to know who actually designed this; please post a comment or send me an email if you know.)

In other Art Deco news, one of my favorite publishers, Tartarus Press, has just published a biography of British Art Deco artist Beresford Egan by Adrian Woodhouse, which includes 79 black-and-white and 25 color illustrations. It's rather pricey, but Tartarus makes beautiful books (mostly reprints and original collections of stately weird fiction), and the sample illustrations are marvelous. More of Egan's work can be seen here. Egan's art seems (to me) to share some stylistic elements with Aubrey Beardsley, and a lot of thematic elements. Wallace Smith's fantastic scratchboard illustrations for Ben Hecht's decadent 1922 novel Fantazius Mallare (for which Smith was jailed!) are also in the same vein. Contemporary artist Gerald Gaubert continues in this exquisitely macabre style, but online images are scarce; he produced the excellent covert art for Falling Into Heaven by L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims from Sarob Press, and has provided numerous illustrations to various UK weird fiction journals and chapbooks. I hope to see a lot more from him.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Something for the weekend

(Yes, that is a Divine Comedy reference.) No, I don't wear ties on weekends, but I did wear this one to a friend's wedding on a Saturday in May. Made (or at least sold) by Leeds of Florida, this tie is made of even heavier material that yesterday's tie, and has a nubby, textured weave; a cotton duck, I think. The big, bold graphics remind me of the textile designs of Marimekko of Finland, still going strong with patterns that recall (or are unchanged since) 1970 or so. There are also a couple American companies producing great retro-patterned fabrics which could conceivably be made into ties: Melinamade (whose Seaweed Sundried could easily pass for Marimekko) and Reprodepot (getting into the Marimekko act with Mondo). Do check out the websites, they have lots of fantastic patterns, which I would love to see more of in everyday life!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Orange and brown

The official colors of the mid-1970's! That's when I'll date this tie, as I don't think these colors have ever been intentionally put together at any other time in history. This is a tie that's built to last: the 65% polyester, 35% cotton fabric is quite hefty, and maybe was actually meant as upholstery. Either the maker's label fell off, or no one wanted to take credit for this tie. (And that's why I had to resort to a tie bar, which really breaks the flow of the design, but there was nowhere to tuck the tail end of the tie. I should learn how to sew on a keeper one of these days.) I got the orange ("melon", actually) shirt ironed for the occasion. I know it looks like I didn't, but it's linen, for Pete's sake; you should have seen it before!

In keeping with the necktie, I went to the local 70's-era mall today (Beltway Plaza). The orange and brown arcade/facade is all dingy white now, as is the interior. 70's stalwart shops are long gone: Mon Ami, where you could get any of hundreds of decals ironed onto a t-shirt, or even better, a baseball jersey (I got Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label on a black t-shirt); the Waxie Maxie's record store, replaced by a crappy FYE; the Leisure Learning Center, which sold educational toys and games long ago, is a flower shop now. But the original 3 Brothers Pizza is still going strong, and Dollar City occasionally has ties like this on their single tie rack! You lose some, you gain some.

Marbling update: I found another silk marbler with a website, Nadine deLange. A bit too heavy on the Flash, but with some nice designs.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Just stripes

I'm not real big on stripes, but this Hugo Boss tie is a little more than "just stripes": it doesn't show up so well in this picture, but the stripe edges are rough, making them look hand-painted, or painted on with a crude roller. And the color scheme is terrific! These are the kinds of colors that brighten people's day, mine included.

Part of the fun of wearing ties is matching them up with the right shirt; I started to go with a light orange shirt with this one, but ended up going with a green that almost matches the green in the tie. (And I would have had to iron the orange shirt, while the green one was already pressed.) One needs a rainbow of shirts if one is to wear a different tie every day (which I have done since January 2003, roughly). I'm deficient in the purple range right now, which I hope to remedy soon. I find that Lands' End has the best combination of price, quality, and selection, and often find great deals in their Overstocks catalog. On the other hand, I have been known to splurge on a fine English shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt. (Those multicolored striped "London shirts" present a real challenge for the necktie wearer; one could just wear a solid-color tie, but that would be giving up. Solid color ties are too boring! Don't wear them! I should have a dazzling London combo together in the next week or so.)

Unchained marbley

Here's yesterday's tie, a hand-marbled number from China labelled "Brother" (or perhaps Drother?). While most hand-marbled ties have a more or less regular pattern, involving painstaking arrangement of the pigments, some are just free-form, like this one. I think I like it just as much; whereas regular patterns are awesome in the repetition of their geometry through ever-changing combinations and gradations of color, the devil-may-care feel of this randomness is exhilarating! Plus it reminds me of the weird rotating-fluid credit sequence from Ultraman.

Where does one get hand-marbled ties? Since the marbling process is done entirely by hand, they are not mass-produced, to my knowledge. There are a few marblers who sell their wares at craft fairs; I bought my first marbled tie from Jill Waggoner at an American Craft Council fair in Baltimore. The only tie marbler I know of with a website is Cosette of Austin, Texas; the site includes a concise description of the marbling process, examples of some of the different traditional marbling patterns, and of course ties, scarves, and more for sale. Moth Marblers of Sausalito, California, used to have a website, but no more. Some museum shops carry hand marbled ties (I have a couple from the Smithsonian, which I suspect were made by Cosette). Some other names to look for (and I'm just taking these from the labels of my ties) are Gail Mackenzie, Michael Kensinger, Kriska, Marblesque/Brian O'Malley, and Solace. I also have a tie by Galen Berry, who has a comprehensive website about marbling, though neckties do not feature on his "products for sale" page, sadly.

New hand-marbled ties generally sell for $40-$60, which is a great value for a vibrant, handmade work of art, especially when you consider that high-end "designer" neckties can cost $80-$150, and not have nearly as much pizzazz. Secondhand marbled ties are criminally undervalued; they don't show up often on eBay, but when they do they can be had for $15 or less (sometimes much less!). You won't see me selling any, though; just buying them!