Arts & Entertainment, etc. and IBJ Style

STYLE: For Billingsley, ties come out as winners

December 19, 2009

It’s not on purpose, but I don’t find myself discussing menswear here very often. That’s probably because men’s clothes tend to be boring; shirt, pants, jacket (maybe) and you’re done.

The “Stars and Stripes” pattern is available in four color combinations, all chosen by Billingsley and Diemer. (Photo Courtesy Birk Billingsley)

Except for the necktie, of course, which is usually the only wardrobe fun a guy gets. Thick, skinny, long, short, bow, cravat, it goes on and on. I want to buy one whenever I stroll through the men’s department at Nordstrom, because they look so pretty arranged in vibrant silk pinwheels of color. And soon we may see a locally connected tie on that highly desired table.

Birk Billingsley, a Krieg DeVault LLP attorney who specializes in intellectual property, is a designer of high-end neckties, and is in negotiations to sell them at Nordstrom.

Law by day and neckwear design by night seems like a stretch, but tie making is serious business (especially at $130 a pop) and who could understand that better than an attorney? It involves several layers of silk, all cut on the bias (diagonally) and sewn together in the back where the pattern should match at the seam. A poorly made necktie will twist awkwardly when draped across the arm, which translates into a less impressive knot and a skewed pattern as it lies on the wearer’s shirt.

That’s why Billingsley ties are all handmade. Not that Billingsley himself is sitting crouched over a worktable with a needle and thread. That part is left to his partner, Wallaya Diemer, who teaches theatre sewing instruction at IU.

While many quality ties say “handmade” on the label, the duo’s collection of dissected specimens proves the fuzziness of that term. Many ties that boast of being “handmade” are merely slip stitched up the back. The tipping, or lining, is clearly done on a machine. But the average tie buyer doesn’t have any reason not to believe a label that says “handmade,” which is why Billingsley admits it will be tough for his to stand out.

Other differences are a little more obvious. On a Billingsley tie, the keeper—the label in the back of the tie that holds the skinny end—is higher than normal, so that pesky tail won’t slip out as easily. And Diemer takes great care in matching the pattern at the seam.

The “Attitude Indicator” pattern was Billingsley’s first design. (Photo Courtesy Birk Billingsley)

The label’s three patterns are all designed by Billingsley and digitized by a design student at the Pratt Institute. The fabric is produced at a British silk mill, the same one used by Ralph Lauren and Robert Talbott.

Billingsley named the first design Attitude Indicator, offering a spin on the aeronautical instrument he became familiar with during his pre-law-school days as an air force pilot. The look of the instrument, a round dial with different colored hemispheres, translates well to a necktie pattern; a sort of whimsical polka dot.

The next pattern, Billingsley hopes, will depict tiny Chinese lucky cats.

So far the company Web site has attracted sales from all over the country and Billingsley and Diemer have been sending samples to celebrities such as Peyton Manning and Ellen DeGeneres.

The homegrown business aspect is appealing, and I admire Billingsley’s confidence in expressing an interest in fashion, but these only go so far. The best part of Billingsley’s products is that they’re gorgeous. If my dad still wore ties, there’d be one in his stocking this week.•

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If you’d like to share your own style ideas or know anyone who’s making waves in the fashion community, contact Gabrielle at gposhadlo@ibj.com. This column appears monthly.

 

 

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