Maurizio Marinella may have good cause to bemoan the decline in tie wearing and the devastation wrought to those colourful if functionless strips of silk that has come about through the casualisation of the male wardrobe. He is no fan of dress-down Fridays either.
“It’s true that there are more occasions for men not to wear a tie but there are still those occasions when a man should wear a tie to show respect,” he argues. “That might be for an important meeting or going to the theatre. Ultimately the tie isn’t just about dressing up - it’s a statement of respect.”
Marinella has spent a lot of time thinking about ties. After all, he is the owner of E. Marinella, the company established by his grandfather Eugenio in Naples - it celebrates its centenary next year - and widely regarded as makers of the world’s best neckwear. Wearers become members of a kind of unspoken fraternity of power-players with a shared taste in a fine tie. The Agnelli family - Italian industrialist owners of the Fiat Group - wore Marinelli.
The Duke of Windsor and John F. Kennedy wore its ties. More recently, so have Chirac, Gorbachev, Clinton, Sarkozy and Prince Charles, men of such renown that they don’t need first names.
“Of course, just the fact that they wear our ties is good credibility for the company - you may not like your prime minister, but if he chooses your ties that is some testament,” says Marinella. “We’ve been making ties for a long time but it seems that ever since the 1970s they have been favoured by politicians in particular - I think they sit around talking to each other about their ties at the G8 summits.” Indeed, a lucky break saw the organisers of the G7 in Naples in 1994 present each head of state with a box of six made-to-measure Marinella ties, kick-starting the association.
Certainly, what is perhaps more remarkable is that the company’s profile has grown through almost no effort on its own part. The Naples shop - where the company started out, only in recent years opening in Milan, Tokyo (where it was alone in offering shorter ties for smaller necks), Lugano and London - is just 20 sqm, but draws enough of the great and good to sell some $8m of a merchandise a year. It has never offered any kind of mail or internet ordering service. You want a tie? You go to one of its shops. Indeed, its high quality and tradition has, as Marinella points out, been a touchstone of pride for the city of Naples through some
“It’s a small company and has stayed small because my grandfather always wanted to devote his attention to just a few clients,” says Marinella. “We’ve always preferred face to face sales, which is more intimate and personal. He always opened the shop at 6.30am every day in person and I’ve followed that tradition. The customer becomes part of the family.”
But what exactly does such a customer get for his £150 or more? And that’s for one tie, by the way. Marinella stresses that the family firm’s ties are all hand-made in Naples using
English fabrics, folded seven times towards the inner to provide a luxurious density and lined by artisanal makers that require special training. Only four ties are ever made of any one design, so each is effectively unique to the customer. “People often don’t understand the level of workmanship that goes into making what can seem to be a very simple item,”
Marinella suggests. “But the way it’s made is what gives the elegance in the end. You can tell a good tie from a less good one by looking at the knot. That’s where the balance of the tie is. It supports the whole tie. It’s its heart. A good knot is a product of good silk, good linings and structure in making.”
For the man who does wear a tie, Marinella recommends a wardrobe of at least five key ties: one self-coloured dark blue, one with blue background and small white motif, one in regimental stripes (with dark blue as the main colour), one in lighter pastel hues, and one bright showy tie. Eugenio’s rule of thumb: light ties should be worn in the morning, dark ties in the evening.
The company is not all ties, however. It has since turned the same attention to detail in making other accessories, including shirts, shoes, small leathergoods, bags and fragrances. But the heart of the company remains in ties. As Marinella puts it, “the ties eat all the other items”. It is also why, for all that he worries about the lack of respect, he is not so worried that some men are putting their ties away.
“We also make more and more great scarves too now, for men and women,” he says. “They bring the same kind of colour and decoration to formal dressing. Perhaps scarves may become the new ties one day.”