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Sartorial Know-how16 September 2021

An Introductory Guide to Italian Silk Ties

Resident style guru Lee Osborne on how to add flair to your autumn neckwear with Italian silk ties

The production of silk can be traced back to China, namely the Neolithic Yangshao culture of the 4th millennium BC. Silk, a fine, strong, lustrous fibre produced by cocoon-making silkworms, and subsequently collected to make thread and fabric, was confined to China until the introduction of the Silk Road during the latter part of the 1st millennium BC.

However, it didn’t arrive on European soil until the 1100s. During the time of the Second Crusade, 2,000 skilled silk weavers from Constantinople (now Istanbul) descended upon Italy and began setting up their businesses. Silk is the overwhelming go to fabric for gentlemen’s ties. Not only is it the strongest natural fibre, it’s one of the most durable fabrics out there, possessing a high tensile propensity which allows it to withstand a substantial amount of tension as well as an inherent elasticity allowing it to retain its natural shape.

Silk ties come in many shapes and guises of course as the items below will testify. Some you will be more familiar with than others. I’m going to run you through the basic rules, and how best to wear them. I’ll guide you through which styles suit formal and which styles tend to pair better with more casual attire.

Bear in mind that brighter colours and bolder patterns (such as those in the below image by Serà Fine Silk) are generally considered to be more casual, whereas smooth textures and darker tones have a more formal connotation. Much like the choice of a suit, parallels to the choice of tie can likewise be drawn: for instance, a richly-patterned, woollen patch pocket blazer is less formal than a plain suit in fine worsted, so a highly-textured shantung grenadine tie with a bold club stripe is less formal than say, a plain navy repp tie.

It’s important to consider the nature of the silk fabric. For instance, does it have a smooth or rough texture? This is a vital consideration as it impacts the way light is absorbed through the fabric (particularly so in a silk knit where you can literally see the light of day filter through it’s tiny pores) or reflected on a more shiny silk. There are 4 basic rules to keep in mind: tone, colour, texture and pattern. The importance of texture cannot be underestimated in the selection of a tie – partly because it is the most subtle and therefore easier to miss.

Printed Silk

Printed silk ties are created either on screens (utilizing a stencil pattern) or large-format ink jet printers which transfer designs on to what is typically a twill weave. They allow almost untold realms of creative possibilities and have been used to great effect historically by the likes of Hermès and Ferragamo to name but two. Stefano Cau’s Wild Ducks printed cashmere tie is a particularly fine example of the art, as is his Rich Paisley Double Face (with two different patterns on either sidein a lush debonair shade of turquoise with navy and egg-yolk yellow motifs inspired by 50s Americana.

Likewise Silvio Fiorello’s red and blue paisley design which employs a rather unique special silver metallic screen printing effect, designed to catch the light, adds an extra touch of luxury and sophistication. Having said that paisley is considered slightly less formal because of its playful swirling patterns so straddles the smart casual divide supremely well.

Serà Fine Silk and Cordone 1926 have beautiful examples of printed medallion ties. Sera’s light pink version is a divine partner with a light blue shirt (cotton for business, chambray for casual) and navy suit while the latter’s unregimented offerings (especially the polka-dotted) are a beautifully contemporary statement piece if you deem the former a touch too elaborate.

Wear with: a plain white or blue shirt or even better, a lighter Bengal stripe or something with a larger yet subtle check — the larger amount of spacing which a more expansive check affords will contrast well with the more intricate, closely-held pattern of the tie. The canvas to display such delights should be a dark navy or grey flannel suit to allow the colourful hues to really pop this autumn.

Shantung Silk
Black Friday
G Inglese Silk Shantung Tie with blue background G Inglese Silk Shantung Tie with blue background

G. Inglese

Hand-refined 100% Blue Silk Shantung Tie

129103 (TaxFree: 84)
Out of Stock
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G Inglese Silk Shantung Tie with dark green background G Inglese Silk Shantung Tie with dark green background

G. Inglese

Hand-refined 100% Silk Shantung Tie

129103 (TaxFree: 84)
Out of Stock

Otherwise referred to as raw silk or dupioni silk — Shantung features irregularities and knobs from raw silk threads providing a more casual look and feel that looks fantastic with the right outfit. It derives its name from the Shantung Province of Eastern China, which is sometimes also referred to as Shandong. G.Inglese’s 5-fold hand-refined 100% brown silk tie is a great case in point here and I love the dainty little mother of pearl button stitched on the back.

Given the slightly more relaxed (while remaining smart) feel a Shantung silk tie exudes, and depending whether you opt for a brown or a navy colourway, an Oxford button-down shirt and plain-coloured patch pocket blazer worn on its own, or full suit in navy or olive will earn you those enviable sartorial stripes (navy with olive, brown with navy).

Grenadine Silk

Originally produced in Italy, Grenadine is a weave characterised by its light, open, gauze-like feel, woven on traditional jacquard looms. Nowadays, only one fully-fledged jacquard operation remains, that of Fermo Fossati in Como which has now has a monopoly on such things. Sadly, jacquard weaving is a dying art nowadays which makes it all the more appealing to the connoisseur. Stefano Cau has an enviable collection of the very finest exponents of the loom, particularly this navy/ecru striped number.

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Double twisted fabrics with logo Double twisted fabrics with logo

Camiceria Ambrosiana

Cotton shirt with stitched logos

202141 (TaxFree: 115)
Out of Stock

Grenadine is super versatile and goes with just about anything. The early incumbents of grenadine were plain colours, but nowadays playful stripes and dots have entered the foray. While wearing grenadine brings an understated panache to sharp tailoring in my eye, it can look equally impressive with a soft-tailored blazer and jeans.

Knitted Silk

A knitted tie possesses an admirable three-dimensional quality which adds great texture to an outfit. Fumagalli’s wonderfully-named Mosaic Crunchy Effect tie is my pick in this particular category. Similarly to its cousin Shantung, a knit exudes a more relaxed vibe. The fact that they’re made from a high-twisted silk yarn means they’re crinkle resistant, so they have the added benefit of being great for travel. Compared to the average silk tie, people tend to take note when you wear one — mainly due to the fact that they remain one of the lesser-spotted varieties.

Beige Cotton Linen Chino Trousers Beige Cotton Linen Chino Trousers

Sartoria Corrado

Beige Cotton Linen Chino Trousers

190 (TaxFree: 155)
Out of Stock

I owe a debt of gratitude to my late Grandfather who introduced me to the delights of knitted ties at a young age – although I didn’t know it at the time. But it had a subconscious effect on me and I’m a big advocate of knitted ties worn with tailoring. Although a knit works well with a blazer — it really doesn’t matter if you chose to team it with a pair of chinos or off-white flannels, it remains a great anchor to the whole ensemble — I’m equally at home wearing mine with a Harrington jacket and a rather louche sweater draped across my shoulders for a more relaxed dressed-down look.

I tend to let the back blade of my tie hang loosely behind the front — and never thread it through the keeper loop as I find it too regimented. The tip of the tie should always sit comfortably below your waistband — don’t fall for the schoolboy error of tying your tie too short as the blank void it leaves across your stomach is not a good look.

It’s all well and good having an amazing tie, but how you tie it is of equal importance. My advice would be to keep the knot classic and simple. My personal favourite is the four-in-hand which I pretty much wear exclusively as I love the shape and the dimple it creates below the knot. But it’s ok to try something different every now and then with something like The Prince Albert — if you want to stand out but in a subtle attention-to-detail kind of way. I would avoid anything too intricate as it will look like you’re trying too hard, which goes against the whole notion of sprezzatura (see my previous column) when you’re supposed to be.

Most of the year I tend to err on the side of 3-fold, untipped, hand-rolled lighter-weight ties, but as we’re approaching autumn it’s ok to break out the odd 7-fold tie – a style which came to prominence in the late 19th century. In some quarters it’s held up as the pinnacle of luxury neckwear thanks its abundant use of fine silk and the intensive manual labour required to create each one. Cordone 1956 have rendered some rather wonderful examples of this style. I’m particularly fond of their Diamante collection, it’s so devilishly difficult to chose between them though, but I’m drawn to the rakish charm oozing from its Green and Azure colourway. Teamed with a double breasted cashmere blazer, it’s a real case of Duke of Windsor eat your heart out.

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