Vintage or rare silk is one obvious way in which tiemakers can distinguish themselves from their peers. It doesn’t take much to make a good tie after all – just a good grade of silk and a slip stitch. The design is mostly a matter of taste. There is a lot to the size of a twill or the method of dying, but these are largely details that few outside Rake readers will appreciate.
Using a rare silk, however, of which there are only a few square metres remaining in existence, instantly sets you apart. It’s the tactic Italian tie maker Passaggio Cravatte has used since it was established two years ago by Gianni Cerutti and Martha Passaggio.
Neither came from a clothing background – Gianni was a journalist and Martha an event planner – but they were consistently disappointed by what they saw from luxury brands when it came to tie patterns and attention to detail. There was no invention and no variation. On a side note, it’s interesting how many people start selling ties – from Ralph Lauren to Michael Drake – and how many across all craft brands remember such a frustration as their spur to action. It’s obviously not just me who is consistently baffled by big brands’ lack of ambition.
Gianni and Martha decided to make all the ties bespoke, with no readymade collection. That might seem an obvious choice for a small company with little start-up capital, but it also gave them the greatest freedom to work with potential customers on fresh ideas and designs.
They quickly started using vintage fabrics. Buying in Como, Italy and parts of England they collected a big range of vintage silks, many 50 or 60 years old. The only ones they use today that aren’t vintage (about 10%) are recreations of vintage designs, such is their love of period-specific pattern. Old cashmere and wool fabric too, mostly from the weavers in Biella in Italy, is used to make up ties.
A particular favourite of theirs, and mine, is printed silk gauze, which is rarely found today because it is so out of fashion. Plain gauze is also lovely and lightweight to work with – my favourite Passaggio tie so far is a purple seven-fold gauze that moves with a life of its own.
Gianni and Martha live in Robbio, just outside Milan near the Malpensa airport. But their workshop is in Naples, and the philosophy of tiemaking in that region determines the construction of the Passaggio product. The default is a very light interlining and often no tipping at all, simply rolling over the bottom edge of the tie and sewing it by hand, like a fine handkerchief. This technique can look very ‘rustic’ if done badly (as a friend described a ham-fisted attempt I was sent by another tiemaker). But Passaggio has easily enough skill to pull off the technique.
Gianni particularly likes a four-fold construction of the tie, with that interlining and hand-rolled edge. Although it is partly dependent on the thickness of the silk, a lined four-fold is often the perfect combination of lightness in the blade and body in the knot.
Genuine seven-fold ties, cut from a full square metre of silk, are also a regular request. Precious few still make true seven folds these days, and even rarer are tiemakers with the discretion to make them work. If a bespoke tiemaker refuses to make you a seven-fold it’s usually a sign that he knows what he’s doing: some silks are too thick, others even too thin. You can’t play with the thickness of the lining, so the silk determines everything.
Lightweight or multifold ties aren’t for everyone. Indeed it was interesting that, during a recent collaboration I did with Passaggio
most opted for simple, three-fold and tipped constructions. Granted that made them cheaper, but I also think it shows most men want a beautiful tie that reveals its quality largely in its elegant conservatism.
Passaggio bespoke ties range from about €150 to €200. All sales are online at the moment and the process could be smoother, given it involves sending swatch pictures by email back and forth to a non-native English speaker. But the product makes it worthwhile.