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Tying the Knot

Return of a Classic: The Seven-Fold Tie
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 1)

But now for the good news: two species of the rara avis, this crown jewel of neck ties, have been found alive and well--one in the United States, the other in Italy.

In the mid-1980s, Robert Talbott Inc. of Carmel, California, decided to revive the seven-fold. It began as a labor of love. Robert Talbott, the company's founder, had been familiar with the seven-fold, and even had a pattern. It had been shown to him back in the 1950s by one of his employees, a woman named Lydia Grayson, who had learned the prestigious seven-fold technique as a teenager working in a Chicago neckwear factory during the late 1920s.

But the project lay dormant as other concerns occupied Talbott. "Then, as I recall," muses company executive John Haller, "back in 1984 Mr. Talbott phoned Mrs. Grayson, who had since retired, and asked her if she remembered how to make the seven-fold. She did indeed, and he convinced her to come out of retirement to train a small staff specifically to hand-craft seven-folds. He had apparently kept this idea about making the world's finest tie in his mind all those years." Talbott, who died in June 1986, lived long enough to see that dream come true.

In Naples, Italy, the acclaimed tailoring firm of Kiton decided several years ago to set aside a section of its factory to hand-production of the seven-fold. "Kiton has a reputation for artisanship in tailoring," says Andrew Tanner, spokesman for the company, "and the firm was interested in reviving this tradition in neckwear, especially since we had a business association with the famed Neapolitan shirtmaking firm of Luigi Borrelli. This area of Italy is renowned for artisans of all sorts, and we were able to find people who knew how to make the tie."

The great irony of making the handsome seven-fold--whether by Robert Talbott or Kiton--is that it is a skill-intensive business, yet utter simplicity itself. The cutter starts with a square yard of finest silk. Talbott favors exclusive silks from a small mill in northern Italy. Unlike other ties, the seven-fold's architecture is devoid of extraneous linings. Instead, the fabric, roughly the equivalent of what would be needed for a woman's blouse, is meticulously hand-folded in on itself--three times on one side, four on the other--the silk creating its own lining as the creases are gently pressed into rolling folds. The back seam is hand-sewn together, and that's it. Simple, of course, as long as you know how to control the folds, how to hand-press them into shape and how to meticulously hand-sew them with invisible stitches so the silhouette will drape and tie perfectly. Piece of cake if you know how to do that.

"At Kiton, we prefer the heavier 40-ounce English twill-printed silks," says Tanner. "This is a special silk purchased from the David Evans Company in Suffolk, the only firm left that does the real 'ancient madder' dyeing process. They use an indigo over-dye that imparts a muted, subtle coloration, which goes well with the slightly chalky hand of the fabric." Whether Italian or English, the silk used in one tie can cost as much as $50.

The other real distinction between the two tiemakers is the way the ends of the ties are finished. Called the large and small aprons, these ends are either hand-rolled and edge-sewn (the Talbott method), or faced with the same material as the tie itself (called "tipping"--Kiton's preferred technique). Talbott aficionados will argue that hand-rolling has a classic simplicity, while fans of Kiton consider tipping a more finished look. This remains purely a matter of taste.

In either case, we are talking about a collectible item in every sense of the word. Only a handful of these beauties are made every year. Talbott restricts its output to a mere 40 ties in each pattern it makes, and produces several dozen patterns per year (ties priced at $175). Kiton's production is slightly larger, with the silks woven and dyed to exclusive designs (priced at $155).

Interestingly, both firms say they are selling more and more ties to younger men, a sure sign that ties are making a comeback. What could be a more golden portent in a tarnished age of dress than that! While Robert Talbott and Kiton stand guard over a nearly bygone era of sophisticated elegance, it's impossible to resist thinking that prodigal taste may be returning to the fold.

A frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado, G. Bruce Boyer is the author of Eminently Suitable (W.W. Norton, 1990).


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