Neckwear notes: wool seasonals mature

by Harry Sheff

As I write in my upcoming furnishings story in the February issue of MR, one of the most promising trends in neckwear lately is the move toward seasonal fabrics. We’ve been seeing spring madras and brightly colored cottons for a couple years, and they’ve helped revitalize the category. But fall wools, arguably around for even longer, took more time to get as creative and even longer to hit the mainstream. I think fall 2012 will be a great season for wool ties, with much more innovation than previous years.

J.M. Dickens

Oddly, many very traditional neckwear vendors are finding themselves at the leading edge, trend-wise, as tweedy fashions excite and inspire younger consumers. Simon Mendez of the British Apparel Collection first told me about his wool challis—that is, printed wool—ties about a year ago. He’s marketing them under his J.M. Dickens brand, all hand made in England. The printed wool gives a softer finish than printing on silk. “It’s a very traditional English look,” says Mendez. “It goes great with tweed, a very fall item.” Challis ties retail for $115 and challis pocket squares (at 10-inches, the wool squares are smaller than normal silk squares), one of which can be seen on the January 2012 cover of MR, retail for $50.

Lochcarron

The Scottish mill Lochcarron has been weaving wool tartans for more than 100 years. They’ve begun marketing neckwear recently, with plaids taken from their archive of more than 800 patterns, at 2.5 inches wide. The ties are selling for a remarkably reasonable $29.75 wholesale (lots of great margin potential), given the fabrics are made in Scotland and the ties are made in the UK. Lochcarron also added tartan pocket squares in the same patterns as the ties ($17.50 cost) in 11 inches square with fringed edges.

J.S. Blank

Barbara Blank of J.S. Blank & Co. showed me some gorgeous Italian wools in textured repp stripes and dots for over $100 retail. “It’s a real business, between the wool and the silk/wool blends,” she told me, explaining that her wool seasonal business was more than a niche. She’s also showing wool challis and wool/cashmere blends.

Edward Armah

And finally, Edward Armah, whose bow tie business got a big boost when he started selling his pocket rounds last year, has expanded to four-in-hand ties, along with wallets ($95 retail) and keychains made from wool tie fabric framed in leather. Of particular interest to me were these Donegal tweed bow ties ($100 retail). When I visited his booth in the MRket show’s Vanguards Gallery, he was wearing a beautiful solid blue cashmere bow tie ($105 retail).

Gitman Blue, Gitman Bros.’ updated neckwear line, looked amazing. I have copious notes from my conversation with John Minahan that I’ll posting separately later.

These are just a few of the brands I was able to catch up with at the shows. Armstrong & Wilson, which started as a pocket square company, also showed in MRket’s Vanguards Gallery, but their booth was so busy every time I walked by that I didn’t get the chance to talk to them. Seaward & Stearn and Drake’s also looked great. I’ll be looking forward to visiting Sugar Chicago, Dion, MMG and Valentini when I get to Las Vegas. I know I’m missing some other great brands, so if anyone has suggestions, please comment below or e-mail me at harrys@mrketplace.com.