In 2010, my son admired a vintage varsity crew tie that belonged to an alumnus/faculty member at his school. "Isn't it too bad they don't make them anymore," he said. "Wanna bet?" I answered. "Wanna bet that here in Italy we can't find someone who can make some just as nice?" . In fact, we found a factory that has been making knitted ties for luxury brands for three generations just a bicycle ride away from our Milan home.
In 2011 we gave our first ties to the varsity crew of Groton School, where they quickly became the envy of the other teams. Crew coach Andy Anderson, who is a rowing-tie collector, encouraged us to let others participate in reviving a the team and school tie tradition. Thanks to Andy, who featured Old College Ties in his "Dr. Rowing" column in Rowing News of April 2012, Old College Ties is up and running.
Nothing is wasted in life, and Old College Ties has finally brought together some longstanding themes. My time doing art history (Wellesley College and U.C. Berkeley), work in retail(Saks Fifth Avenue)and haute couture sewing (at a Paris atelier and Givenchy)all add something to the Old College Tie story. And then there is writing (www.madeleinejohnson.it) and a family. My two children started rowing on Milan's Idroscalo.
This artificial lake next to Milan's Linate airport, which was created in the 1920s for sea-planes, has been home to international rowing and canoeing events since 1934. The children moved on, rowing at Groton School (2011) and Choate Rosemary Hall (2014). When I am not mucking around in the tie factory, I still go out to the Idroscalo to walk Dexter, our wire-haired dachshund.
Ties with exclusive patterns and color combinations originated in the British military and later spread to schools, universities and clubs. Across the far-flung British Empire, distinctive ties allowed alumni and club members to identify each other. United States schools, universities and clubs also produced ties for their members. The terms 'club tie' or 'club stripe' usually refer to silk ties with a distinctive diagonal stripe (known as 'regimental' stripes in honor of their military origin. Because the design is woven into the cloth, rather than printed, it is known as Jacquard (after Joseph Marie Jacquard who invented a loom in 1801 that used punched cards to create woven patterns and that was the precursor of the modern computer). Striped ties have always been associated with university sports, particularly rowing. In fact the striped rowing tie was reportedly 'invented' in 1880 when members of the Oxford's Exeter College crew removed the hatbands from their boaters and wore them around their necks. Many schools and universities once awarded ties to varsity team members, like letters. Harvard had at least 14 of these ties (http://harvardmagazine.com/2011/03/mysteries). Groton School's archives in Massachusetts have ties with distinctive stripes for crew, basketball, soccer, football, hockey and tennis. Knitted ties were essentials of the mid-twentieth century 'Ivy League look' with their blend of varsity sports hero and tweedy academic (http://www.richardjames.co.uk/the-row/2011/a-knit-of-alright/). When school and university students were no longer required to wear coat and tie to class, the tradition died and many American tie producers disappeared or stopped making small quantities. Old College Ties' Italian manufacturer still has the skill and willingness to produce small numbers of high-quality ties. This family-owned factory, which is located in the center of Italy's silk and fashion industries, has been producing knitted ties for international luxury brands for three generations.