The Sad Demise of Tie Rack

Closing Down Sales can often be misleading marketing ploys. Canny shop-owners combine price reductions with supply-ceasing, which they sum up in the yard-sale informality: “Everything Must Go.” Gullible shoppers, mysteriously eager to respond to such commands, comply dutifully. The sale period ended, the shop owners return to their normal pricing structure and carry on as usual; no bailiffs, no bulldozers and no bankruptcy. “It’s all part” they cackle “of the business model.” How amusing.

However, in retail, there is nothing sadder than a genuine ‘Closing Down Sale.’ To see the uncertainty on the face of staff, the stock thrown around and trampled upon carelessly by ravenous bargain-hunters and the pride of a brand wounded by the exhibition of its downfall.  And so, it was with great sadness that I stepped into the Oxford Street branch of Tie Rack, the international accessories brand, which had recently announced, due to years of losses, that it would be closing doors on UK retail at the end of 2013.

In truth, I had never seen it busier. Either the ‘Closing Down Sale’ marketing had worked its wonders or the newswire had led savvy vultures to prey on the carcass of the once 450-branch-strong neckwear brand.

The ties were there of course, heaps of them lining one side, alongside pocket squares, bow ties, cufflinks and belts. But the thing that struck me was how quiet that area of the store was. I scanned the environment and noticed that the area of greatest interest was women’s accessories; scarves, wallets, hats and gloves. Women of all ages were rifling through bins of silk scarves, holding up belts in front of their bored husbands and trying on hats in a crowded mirror.

It is well acknowledged that the wearing of ties is on the decline. When I was on work experience in a fund management office in the late 1990s, ties were expected to be worn every day – by everyone. Nowadays, many offices no longer require them to be worn at all, unless there happens to be an important external meeting or a presentation, which encourages men to own fewer ties and be more discerning when it comes to purchasing one. This explains why the pile-em-high-price-em-low Tie Rack offer no longer works.

It also explained why so many men in the store, when such bargains were on offer, chose to peruse the women’s accessories. So alien were these ties to them that, in their studied avoidance, pretended to be interested in floral gloves, pink striped scarves and metal-fruit covered yellow belts.

I, a loyal customer of Tie Rack, was crestfallen. The quantities of silk that had gone to waste; the hours of design ignored by an unappreciative public. Though neckties had become less than 50% of the stores’ revenues, they were its raison d’etre, its necessity. They had given birth to the brand’s success.

It is perhaps appropriate that if the ties go, everything else should too. For gone are the days when the Everyman needed such variety of neckwear (and could purchase it at low cost); past is the time when men looked at a tie as a sartorial plaything and whim of pattern and colour. Now, they are but nooses of an imprisoning formality and a millstone around the neck of a once-great retailer, caught cold by changing trends.

Farewell, TR. I’ll miss you.

Sartorial Stereotypes: Christmas Day Knitwear

Black Cashmere V Neck

The Black Cashmere V Neck man has had a good year and, tastefully and quietly, he wants everyone to know it. A resolute bachelor, he lives in a family-sized flat without the slightest hint of guilt. His slick steel fridge in his Calacatta-covered kitchen is full: a batch of vintage Krug that was once gifted to, but never consumed by, Mikhail Gorbachev and non-farmed Beluga (illegal and criminally expensive at $5,000 a tin).

His Christmas parties that he throws in his exquisitely subtle but, evidently, expensively decorated monochrome aerie are legendary in a co-op building that makes up for its lack of fame by the quality of its residents. Unlike the other Christmas Day parties thrown on the Upper East Side – “They’re just infested with Russians now” – his party is only momentarily extravagant, only occasionally nauseatingly indulgent. After pottering about checking the bow ties of the waiters, which he had to tie himself, he leans on the fireplace, waiting for the bell to ring wearing slim-fitting, single-pleated grey flannels from Anderson & Sheppard, black velvet slippers from John Lobb, and a black cashmere V Neck from Ralph Lauren Black Label.

Fair Isle Crew Neck

The Fair Isle Crew Neck man lets off a whoop of excitement as the champagne cork hits the ceiling. “Champers is ready!” he calls out loudly to his Christmas day companions, who are relaxing on the warm sofa by the roaring fire. He walks in smiling brightly, handing glasses to his sparkling girlfriend and her disapproving best friend and then drops into the armchair scratching the head of Patrick, a wire fox terrier. “It’s so cute, this cottage!” the best friend exclaims, smiling disingenuously at the host. “It’s just a rental” the girlfriend says winking at her lover, playfully touching her Van Cleef & Arpels engagement ring. The Fair Isle Crew Neck man smiles back. After a lunch of Christmas goose (“You know, my family, we never had turkey”), a substandard Malbec bought by the best friend who, now boozed and postprandial, was positively scowling. She hated how curly his hair was, how tanned he still was from his engagement holiday on Mustique, how he never made much of the fact that he was a baronet and she hated that he used to play rugby for the Durham First XV. He was too perfect. She found it hard to publicly hate him, this man that was due to turn her best friend into a dutiful housewife, and that made her hate him even more. “C’mon girls” he said casually, standing with Patrick at the door in his navy Hunter boots, olive cashmere flannel trousers, Fair Isle Crew Neck from Drakes and battered Barbour “let’s walk off the goose and earn our pud-pud.”

John Smedley Bergamo

The John Smedley Bergamo man is at his first “singles” Christmas. After being told by his parents that they would be cruising around Australia, he decided to give what his mates said would be “guaranteed Crimbo sex” a chance. After reviewing his carefully, painstakingly cut physique in the hotel room mirror, he sprays himself with copious amounts of mid-range deodorant and dons a pair of slim charcoal trousers, Gucci loafers and his silver John Smedley Bergamo sweater, the fine merino-weave of which shows up his toned pectorals and bulging biceps. He wanders down to the dining room where a bevvy of overly made-up women wait nervously, fidgeting with their hair and reapplying lipstick using the gilt overmantle mirror. “She’s fit” he thinks to himself, looking twice at a smiling Amazonian beauty.

The Christmas meal itself, predictable down to the last cocktail sausage, is an awkward affair, as all members of the party lack the comfort in each other’s company and, consequently, find themselves nervously shifting the food around their plates and shuffling in their seats in order that the brussel sprouts should not have their gaseous way. The John Smedley Crew Neck man happily avoids the majority of the meal, focusing on three very large pieces of turkey – “It’s leaner than chicken” – and eyeing up the Amazonian, who noticed his substantial, merino-encased arms as he reached across the table for the bottle of San Pellegrino. “And now ladies and gentlemen” the maitre’d announces “we have the very special, Christmas pudding!” Catching his eye, the Amazonian prey asks him if he will partake; “No. Too calorific. I’ll just have my protein shake.”

Cable roll-neck from Gant

The Gant Cable Roll Neck man is an excellent but truly obnoxious skier. Having decided he was the most experienced in the group, he proceeds to lecture his chalet companions on what they should and shouldn’t be doing: “Tom, you’re not ready for black runs mate, you’re just not ready. You’re kind of where I was, 12 years ago”; “Katie, your parallels are really lazy, you need to bring them in more. You surprise me actually, I thought you’d be a natural.”

His long-suffering girlfriend, Emily, pleads with the group when they voice their irritation during one of his bathroom breaks: “You see, the thing is, he’s really, really good – like REALLY good – and you should listen to him if he’s trying to help you, yah?” A lawyer at a Magic Circle firm and a tenor in his local choir, he puts others’ dislike of him down to his undoubted intellectual superiority and artistic ability.

His attire is smug and uninventive, showing no individual style. He wears what he calls ‘proper’ (read:ugly) skiwear and scoffs at Tom’s stylish Moncler ensemble; “I’ve been skiing longer than they’ve EXISTED.” His only stylish après ski garment is a white Gant cable roll neck, a gift from his girlfriend, which he wears with disturbingly awful jeans and caramel coloured Uggs. “The thing I love about Val d’Isere” he shouts in Tom’s ear as Flo Rida blasts away in a dingy club “is that I feel people here are almost as stylish as I am. Makes me feel relaxed.”

As the group lie back in the hot tub the next day, bitching about his interference – “Why can’t he just shut the f*ck up?!” – he sits in a ski-in bar with his girlfriend, smiling beatifically and soaking up the sun until he notices her digging into the nuts; “Babe, remember, nuts are actually quite fattening.”

Internet Tailoring Series: Interview with Andreu Fernandez of Tailor4Less

Let’s face it. Internet tailoring is like a lottery draw held in the middle of a soggy minefield during an electrical storm: if something can go wrong, it probably will.

You’re uncertain. You doubt them. I hear you; which is why I am interviewing a series of these firms to get the individual lowdown on their product and service.

For the second interview, I spoke with Andreu Fernandez of Tailor4Less.

1. What is the Tailor4Less story and what are Tailor4Less seeking to achieve in tailoring?

In the summer of 2008 I was in Shanghai, travelling for pleasure. At that moment, I was about to start working at a strategic consultancy and I needed a few elegant suits for the office. In Shanghai, I found a good quality product at a very reasonable price. With this discovery, I looked for a way to continue to buy those clothes directly from Europe. One thing led to another, and when I came back home I had already created a business plan for the development of a new tailor-made clothing online business. Two months and a couple of trips to China later, we launched Tailor4Less in Spain. Our aim then is the same today: we think that everyone should have the possibility to create their own style.

2. Why should someone choose a Tailor4Less suit?

We have a catalogue of 180 fabrics and 1,500,000 different ways to customize your suit. Tailor4Less is probably the most complete online tailoring shop and also the fastest of the market, as we deliver our products just 15 days after ordering.

The quality of our materials ranges from Australian Merino Wool, which gives a mark of excellence to our fabric collection, to cotton, linen and blended fabrics, if you are looking for more informal clothing.

We are also the first brand to carry out a 3D visualization system, which enables all our users to see the result of their configuration in real time and with a high level of detail. The 3D visualization is available for all our products: shirts, suits, coats and trench-coats, polo shirts, blazers and tuxedos.

In addition to the high quality of fabrics, the usability of our webpage and the fast delivery, another good reason to buy from Tailor4Less is our competitive price point (shirts from £36 / €39; suits from £159 / €179).

3. How would you compare a Tailor4Less suit to one from a traditional tailor on Savile Row and how would you say you are different from other internet tailors?

When comparing different suits you need to take into account fabric, workmanship and fit.

• Fabrics: we have a huge range of fabrics from blended wool to 100% merino wool. So you can make a suit with similar material qualities to one from Savile Row. Other internet tailors tend to have only blended fabrics or ask very high prices for 100% wool fabrics.

• Workmanship: all our suits are cut by laser (only a small amount of tailors have the resources to cut each suit individually by laser) and are then hand-tailored by expert tailors with similar skills to those on Savile Row.

• Fit: all our suits are made-to-measure. We do not adapt a ready-to-wear suit, so each suit is made individually for each customer.

Overall, we combine the craftsmanship of the past with new technologies to reduce costs and offer the best possible price to our customers.

4. Could you tell me what personalisation is possible on Tailor4Less suits?

We can tailor nearly anything you can imagine.

However, most customers are not experts and get lost when given too many options and, therefore, our 3D designer has been developed to show the most common options in order to simplify the process. Those with more specific requirements and more expertise can contact us directly to ask for additional features not available on the site.

5. What fabrics do you use and where do you source them from?

Recently we launched a new categorization of our fabrics:

– Urban. The basics of each season: this category includes materials such as cotton, linen and smooth blended fabrics.

– Business. Striped or patterned 100% wool fabrics or mixed fibers (wool and polyester).

– Executive. High quality 100% wool fabrics: the kingdom of classic style.

– Premium. Made from 100% Australian Merino Wool, Premium fabrics keep the body temperature stable, repel dirt and have a great soft touch.

6. Where are Tailor4Less suits made?

All suits are cut by laser and hand stitched by our experienced tailors in our Shanghai center.

We offer a unique and consistent product for each of our customer. Therefore, every customer has one group of tailors assigned in order to maintain the same finishing for all the different orders sent to the same person.

7. What are the plans for Tailor4Less for the future? (Increasing fabric range, designs etc)

During 2013, we have focused on developing a 3D version of our site where customer can design and check in real time their product. In addition, our website has been adapted to be compatible with all devices.

In 2014, we will re-launch a 3D version of our women’s site with an improved usability and much larger range of products (similar to the men’s site). In addition, we will keep launching monthly collections from designers all over the world to offer fashion at affordable prices.

Joining the London Crew

“Ohmygodyouknowwhat? I love J Crew!” I heard a girl squeal as she passed the American brand’s new London store on the oh-so-desirable and revitalized Regent Street – which now eclipses the famous-but-tired Oxford Street for footfall – and has seen (and will continue to see) the opening of grand new emporiums for the likes of Gant, Hackett and Tommy Hilfiger, whereas the street that Selfridges calls home gets, er, a new Primark.

If you are a brand with grand ambitions, Regent Street is your spiritual home – at least in London. The bricks and mortar in which you retail your wares are large and, in many cases, elegant and spectacular. The street also has an attractive and unique beauty in it’s famous curve, which enables you to see the splendid facades of the buildings as you walk towards them without craning your neck in the middle of a busy pavement. As a thoroughfare, it takes some beating.

Which is probably why J Crew selected a site halfway up the street in an imposing double-fronted property; the footfall alone would seem to justify the expense. Strange then that instead of taking advantage of this position and pricing their products relatively advantageously – in other words, pricing in order to increase sales volume and consequent brand exposure in a new market – they have priced themselves as a luxury brand.

Let’s be clear about this, some of J Crew’s product is relatively good quality and of good design. A few items are as good as Ralph Lauren’s entry level products and most are superior to Banana Republic – another US brand which made the mistake of pricing products in their London store too high – but the fundamental mistake that J Crew have made with their expensive and high-profile English adventure is not understanding the UK, and specifically, the London retail market; a mistake made by many mid-tier brands that arrive on these shores.

An overcoat in J Crew that was barely better in construction and finish than one from Zara was £500; almost four times the price of one from the Spanish brand and considerably more expensive than a made-to-measure option from premium sister brand Massimo Dutti. A pocket square, even in cotton, is a breathtaking £55. Pair of wool suit trousers will set you back £250. These are Hackett prices – indeed, many of them are above Hackett, hitting RL level – and yet the quality and elegance of Hackett  or RL is, for the most part, not evident.

Sartorially, some of the clothing is attractive but you would have to question why anyone would purchase a £700-800 off the rack suit from this, let’s face it, high-street American clothier when you can pop around to a London tailor and get one made fully bespoke for about £100-200 more.

Once again, it seems that a newbie foreign retailer has either neglected to properly research one of the most famous and ruthless trading environments on the planet, or they simply, and rather naively, believe their pricing model will lift them into the realms of being a ‘luxury brand’ – J Crew is no designer label and yet their prices seek to place it alongside genuine catwalk names like Hilfiger and Lauren. Either way, they should be aware of one very important factor: Londoners, and the people who visit the place, are no fools. The competitiveness of the retail environment has seen to that. Those squealing customers who love the stateside J Crew may be somewhat surprised by the version of the brand that is presenting itself to the UK capital.

The Judgment of a Woman

“He’s the best dressed man at the wedding” she shouted, gesturing towards a nameless gentleman who was propped up at a dark, unmanned bar with a watery single malt. The ghostly cavern which he inhabited was a reminder of the fact that this was an out-of-season resort; a slab of granite that would, in the heat of summer, be adorned with dripping cocktails, was dry and dark. He had sought a relaxing, gloomy repose from the matrimonial merriment; a chink of darkness in a ceremony of light. What he received instead was a searchlight.

What this unexpected compliment also revealed was how women not only notice when a gentleman is well-dressed, but also that she judges the man on that basis. If a man can put a black bow tie on with an average fitting suit, she’ll award him three to four points for the effort. If he wears a well-cut dinner suit with a self tie bow tie, rakishly tied, she’ll notice his personality in the way he dresses and award him a good six or 7 points. If she sees a man so different to everyone else, edgy but elegant, bordering on experimental, her excitement is not about the clothes, but about the fact that he had the mind to wear them. Uniformity is a cousin of Boredom, and Boredom is kryptonite to discerning women. What she sees when she sees a jacket cut unlike anyone else’s, a buttonhole that no one else is wearing, a general comfort in the clothes that belies their formality, she sees the man – not the threads.

The lesson of this experience for me was that women are far better judges and appreciators of men’s style than other men. The way we wear clothes is designed to be attractive. Women are meant to be drawn to us. The trouble is that men often wear clothes to disguise the fact they are wearing anything at all. As a result, they appear simplistic, pedestrian and unromantic. Only a million dollar face and an inexhaustible charm could overcome such an oversight; and we know how few and far between those jewels are bestowed. Women are, thankfully, less shallow than men, but they are right in their assertion that seeing is believing. If you look like a blind conformist, a couldn’t-care-less or just boring, you probably are. I never before believed that profundity could be detected superficially. I have always been a great believer in proving people wrong through association, in the victory of personality.

However, I have recently converted to the uncomfortable but understandable truth that if you have anything about you that might attempt to masquerade as a quality of charm – and I’m not talking Nobel-prize intelligence, Mother Teresa levels of compassion or Onassis levels of financial generosity – it’s more likely that you will attempt to translate that into some kind of physical or sartorial representation. When men complain that it’s always the lookers, the charmers, the slick snakes-in-the-grass who get the girls, they need to take a long, hard look in the full length cheval mirror.