A salesman in Turnbull & Asser’s Jermyn St. store for fifteen years, ‘Talking Shop’ writer Alain Rowe celebrates the provision and judgement by which Turnbull & Asser attained and maintains its reputation for excellence.
Historically informed, spirited and customer-led, Turnbull & Asser champions the maintenance and expansion of time-honoured sartorial developments. The bow tie is one such development - and one of five very distinct daytime neckwear styles embedded within Turnbull & Asser’s ready-to-wear and bespoke neckwear provision.
The forerunner of all contemporary neckwear was a long strip of cloth known as a ‘cravat’. This gained widespread currency following its adoption as a sartorial embellishment by the French and German courts of the mid-17th century. From its earliest courtly appearances, the cravat was often worn with a bow atop or beneath it, or as a bow - an arrangement captured and celebrated in wood by the 17th-18th century sculptor Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721). A tribute acquired by England’s man of letters, Horace Walpole, who in 1769 wore the wooden cravat as a joke among some French, Spanish and Portuguese guests at his Twickenham home. As the wig diminished in stature and popularity during the 18th century, it became common to restrain or tie oneʼs pigtail with a ribbon drawn to the front of the neck and tied with a single bow known as a ‘solitaire’, a bow that became a feature of 18th century ladies costume, and of male dress into and through the Regency era. Only from the mid-19th century did tiemakers begin to shape what then became known as the ‘bow tie’ in diverse ways to create distinctively characteristic shapes. Bow tie shaping possibilities are endless, and this gives every tiemaker scope to showcase their creativity and individuality.
The standard contemporary nod to the bow tie is impressively eclipsed by Turnbull & Asser’s range of ready-to-wear bow ties. But more so, by the company’s long history of across-the-board frontline innovation. The velvet bows currently sold by Turnbull & Asser represent a slight taming of the ﬂamboyant 1960s creations of Turnbull & Asser salesman Peter Bartindale. Michael Fish, who earnt great acclaim for the kipper tie, was also a Turnbull & Asser salesman. Before the arrival on the sartorial scene of the designer, it was the customer who led the way, and Turnbull & Asser maintains this tradition. I recently took a bow tie order that began with a sketchy recollection of something seen, and with the aid of pen, tape measure, and the deliberation of the company’s three dedicated bow tie technicians - Barbara, Claudia and Fred - presented to the commissioning party a product that was not merely a competent execution of a commission, but to the company’s best knowledge, a design first.
The celebrity catalogue of Turnbull & Asser’s bow tie custom is long: Churchill, Sinatra, Bond, political interviewer par excellence Sir Robin Day, author of the exuberant Dame Edna Everage (and the grotesque Sir Les Patterson), Barry Humphries, and England’s longest serving television personality, the late Sir Bruce Forsyth. These are some of many, but behind Turnbull & Asser’s bow tie custom - past, present, celebrity or otherwise - is the company’s reverence for a tie whose standing can no more be withdrawn than denied, and for whom the bow tie is a living article that brooks no template. The Turnbull bow is inherently malleable, and its character truly belongs to its wearer. Turnbull & Asser takes the bow tie - and its wearers - seriously.