Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Life of a Necktie

After a hiatus of some years and constantly being asked.... “What did you do when you were working”? I finally wrote some of it down. Harry Bachrach was the name of my company. I sold the company10+ years ago to Bob Davidson who is still running it along similar lines today. NYC was our head office but we literally worked world-wide. To be in Germany, France, Italy, Korea, China, Thailand, England, Japan or anywhere else was common in our working day. I watched the fluctuations of all kinds of currency rates during my tenure. I flew and worked from this place to that place and spent many a day bleary-eyed and jet-lagged. I chose to work only with the marketing arms of the fashion design world, not the retailer directly. I think it was hard enough just to do that instead of being at the whim and call of each store buyer, too. I had a love-hate relationship with my profession. I loved the art part of it, hated the many details needed to get it all done. Well, here is an outline of my business when I worked. Ultimately I was responsible for it all even though I had plenty of good people working with me.
Research: Each month, day or even hour, something “trendy” happens. It might be in color, in style, in events. It might be blatant, subdued or barely perceptible. But it is there, over and over again. Designers of recognition (Armani, Dior, Versace, Ralph Lauren/Polo, Tommy Hilfiger etc.) sometimes create a trend, but most of the time it is through their diligent research that it comes to the foreground and becomes mainstream and trendy. “Trend” has many levels. Avant Guard vs. Popular, Old vs. New, Modern vs. Traditional, etc. Research for neckties follows these guidelines in finding a “trend”. What makes necktie research most difficult is the fact that ties are worn by many different people and these people want to accessorize different outfits with the appropriate necktie. It is not correct to say that a tie is designed only for a certain style, that it is designed at the same time or alongside a new trend. In fact many times neckties influence the trend. A case in point was the late Jerry Garcia collection, or the look associated with Zegna. Ralph Lauren, years ago, ‘invented’ the extra wide tie and started a Fashion Revolution. His bold statement of a necktie look changed the whole Fashion business. Necktie looks stand totally separate, on their own and do not lean on a Designer Look. Yes, some designers dictate an approach to fit their view of Fashion. The minimalist concept of Donna Karan dictates a certain Spartan approach to designing ties. But this dictation in itself makes the designing very difficult. To create in a world of just black or just grey with the least amount of decoration, has always been extremely difficult. Yet that is what Donna Karan specifies. Luckily, we are very capable. We take inspiration from architecture, film, advertisements, magazines, news events, etc. We listen, we look, we search. All of our contacts, suppliers and customers help with our research. We cherish the challenge.
Create a Rough Concept of a Design We consider the ability to put a feeling or an idea onto paper, one of our great assets. To express what we see, feel and hear. To make it visible so that all can see it. This ability cannot be learned. It cannot be bought. It is innate. You have it, or you don’t. Trying to teach this to someone is futile. We have tried for years to teach this skill and while some people get to a certain level, it is best if you are born with it. Harry Bachrach Inc., my former company still existing, is extremely lucky to have people who are ideal for this endeavor. We have people who were made for this job. Their talent is so natural that it is amazing to see their creation take place. They make it look so easy, so fluid is their motion that the end result is exactly what is needed for the collection at that time.
Draw the Design via Computer Sometimes a concept is so right, so crystal clear and perfect and understood by everyone but… it cannot be produced during printing or weaving. Concessions have to be made to keep the general feeling but to still make the technical aspect feasible. It must be printable. It must be weavable. The challenge here is to NOT lose the feeling of the concept and to produce a workable rendering. The concept must stand up in many different ways. If the concept is e.g. “Echo”, then each design must fit that image, that concept. Our computers are very helpful in that they allow us to work clean, neat and efficient. But… a computer is still like a typewriter. It just sits there. It needs input, it needs brain power. It needs hands on. Nevertheless, we believe it makes us more flexible to have the designs created electronically.
Make Presentations to the Customer All previous work and talent is for nothing if we cannot make our customer understand what we are after. We must present our idea, our concept for full criticism, then stop and listen. Pride, while we have it, must take a back seat. Our goal, each and every time, is to present our work and listen for the “wow” effect. We take great pains to work out the correct colorations for each design. We fold the art work so that it resembles a necktie. We present it on shirt swatches, whether real or make believe. We add the designer logo, add belly-bands, work out new labels, etc. We do what we can to make the presentation a pleasurable experience for our customers. The presentation is an important step in securing our livelihood. All things must come together here. The presentation must make sense to everybody. Too “slick” and it feels false. Too “sloppy” and it feels “cheap”. A balance is needed. Yet it must be artsy and appealing. It is as much a part of our image as the art itself.
Correct and Adjust the Sketch We try to avoid this at all costs. We sometimes don’t understand why a 10% reduction of the design makes our customer happy. Is it our pride that makes us think this way? Why can’t we be right from the start? Corrections, adjustments are just that. Basically, we have succeeded in piquing the interest of our customers. If a small adjustment has to be made, so be it. We are lucky to have the aid of our computers and we will be happy to make these corrections. We are in “Commercial Art”. Even our customers are subject to the whims of the store buyer and ultimately the final consumer. Yes, we believe the final consumer would want each and every design the way WE designed them, but then maybe not. Who knows for sure? It is our belief that with the input of everyone, we eliminate the least popular designs and become more focused on the best designs. Corrections are sometimes necessary, but generally disliked. We are still in the early stages here and from here on our art becomes a consumer product.
Color Strike Off The first step after the approval of a sketch is to create a design sample, a strike off in various color combinations. While the sketch was shown in e.g. “yellow” the ultimate collection will have this design in various color combinations. Not only do we create a yellow necktie but we will color the red, the blue, the grey, maroon tie, etc. This is a small hidden corner within Harry Bachrach Inc. We stand out in creating colors that sell. We have full time people – colorists – whose passion it is to create the right look in correct colors. Give them any design and they will color it to order. Bright, dark, natural, hot… any way it needs to be. Traditional, Country, Avant Guard, Updated Traditional, Urban … we color it to fit the demand. By concentrating on each customer’s need, we can custom color our designs fitting their visions. We create strike offs in many, many, ways. We print or weave them. We even offer to sew the neckties for a complete sample line. All our work is based on the special needs of each client. Many of our print designs have within each design 12 or more printing screens. Our coloring art utilizes those screens in a color palate that compliments the total tie. We will show colorations which bring out the uniqueness of the designer and of the art inherent in the design. We never forget the art behind each tie, behind each color combination, behind each Designer look. Colors add so much to the final product. Just imagine a pink Mercedes Benz car – great car, wrong color! With every tie, we aim to make the design, designer image and color blend perfectly. We aim to make each tie to accessorize a man’s outfit, bringing out the shirt, the suit and the style. Colors are very, very important and we believe we are the best at coloring.
Show Strike Off to Customer Time becomes of the essence when we reach this point. We and our customers have committed each other to the design at this stage. We have made the printing films at the mill level, or written a (software) program for a woven design. Already we have put a lot of time, effort and money into the creation of the fabric. At the printing mill level we have made actual, physical screens for printed designs, we have custom mixed printer colors; we have custom dyed yarns for woven fabrics and have done as much as we could for a full production item. We, Harry Bachrach, have worked hard to get to this point. Yet, all we have really produced is a strike off; a mere sample, nothing more. We have not made any money. We have spent money. It is our conviction that we are correct in all previous aspects of the necktie up to this point. We show the strike off, a true and replicable sample of the actual production item, to our customer with pride. With pride do we await their comments. We have all worked for this point in the life of a necktie. We understand the urgency and feel the apprehension just before the actual showing of the strike off. We like this tension, this calculated uncertainty. This feeling of “let me see” is what drives us all. We love the smile we see when people touch the fabric, touch the tie for the first time. (Did you ever notice that you have to “touch” the design at this point?) Yes you just have to touch it. Art has become reality. Ideas have become tangible. This is a critical point and cannot be overstated. We can now touch art.
Make a Sample Sometimes, but lately more often, we are asked to produce a sample line in complete detail. We oblige by presenting the total collection of our designs or even a total set of fully labeled, fully ticketed neckties. Until now all of our efforts lead us only to making a sample line that will be given for representation to the Retailer. It was common that we produced only sample yards that could be sewn into neckties locally. That is changing. Local factories are closing and the domestic expertise is no longer available. We are now more and more completing the full production circle, from the idea to the finished necktie. The samples of the neckties created are a representation of a production tie in every detail. We can and do sew sample ties, including labels, belly bands, with or without plastic sleeves according to the many different styles featured by our clients. We label each tie and do the work any contractor or any manufacturing facility of ties would do. We pride ourselves in delivering a product that is in many respects better than the fine products sewn elsewhere in the U.S.
Wait Here is where we have to stop for a while. We do not sell our designs, ties or fabric yardages to the Retail Trade. Retail meaning stores visited by the public to actually purchase a necktie. ‘Macy’s’ in the U.S. for example, or ‘Nordstrom’ or ‘Bloomingdales’, or ‘The Bay’ in Canada, etc. We are suppliers to the wholesale market only. That is our choice. We have chosen not to work with retailers in any way because they present a whole different set of circumstances and we are not set up to deal with their whims and idiosyncrasies. We just wait. We wait until our customer the wholesaler, or as we prefer to think the marketing arm, has reached an agreement with a retailer to have our designs produced for delivery to their stores.
Additional Merchandise A while ago, we decided to add to our assortment of products. We now also produce and offer for sale: woven labels, belly-bands, lining and tipping. We offer anything that is used to make a necktie presentable to the ultimate customer.
Produce Fabric Production has to be broken down into two major areas; printed production and woven production. For the printed production, we have to secure the woven ground cloth, have the cloth prepared for printing, set up the printing tables, mix the individual colors, clean and set up the screens and print each color way by hand. For a design with 10 screens, we print by hand each screen on top of the next until the final product is completed. Yes, it means we must apply one color over the previous color until all 10 colors create the full design. It is all done by hand and by experts that learn their trade over many years. Naturally, great care is taken to do this job correctly since the production has to match the samples exactly. The alignments must be exact, no deviations or unevenness is allowed. Even the washing out of the excess color, the water temperature, the amount of chemicals in the water, the heat setting, the drying cycle, the applying of end-finish starch, the rolling and finally the shipping must be done with the utmost care. Each step is as important as the previous one or the next one. The end product must be perfect. For weaving, the logistics are different but no less involved. Depending on which loom we use, the yarns have to be prepared accordingly. Each thread must be dyed according to the color palette we used during sampling. Each colored yarn used needs to be calculated and weighed. Different weight for each yarn is needed during weaving; each loom is specifically set up and prepared. Each design needs and has a unique setup; no two designs can be made simultaneously. Weaving is very mathematical, very logical, very time consuming. Weaving is a slow process, each thread is inserted one at a time and while looms work 24 hours a day, weaving with silk is difficult. Silk is a natural fiber and is delicate and capricious. Therefore the speed of the loom cannot be very high and we have designs where we can only weave one yard in 30 minutes or about 15 yards in an 8 hour shift. Weaving is slow. Weaving is complex and an art form in its own right. Even though we use the latest, modern looms, silk weaving is exceptionally complicated. To find qualified people, even looking world-wide, is a challenge. Just to produce the set of cards, or program that guides the loom through its weaving cycles needs experts. Expensive experts today. Woven ties also have a disadvantage since a loom has technical limitations that can be coaxed but ultimately cannot be avoided. The number of colors used per pattern, the effects wanted and the way they are executed, the stop and go when ends break, the shading of the yarn, the unevenness of the silk itself, each adds to the uniqueness of a woven design but also adds to its demise. Woven neckties are therefore most difficult to produce.
Sew Ties We have the production fabric at this point and all is well. We can ship the fabric after we inspect it three times (on the printing table, after the steaming process, after end-finish) or we are asked to make the neckties. The choice of whether to receive the end product from Harry Bachrach as fabric or as neckties, is up to our customer, the Wholesaler. We have been asked to operate a full facility just for the production of neckties. We are capable of producing any number of dozens of ties per week. We are set up for hand sewn as well as Liba (machine made) ties. We make any shape, any length, and any style of necktie. We literally custom produce ties for our clients. Just as in Sampling and Coloring, we create a product we are proud of. We are in fact, a neckwear sewing mill in addition to a design studio.
Ship According to Instructions This final detail is important to our clients. Some customers want the product to be shipped sorted by groups; separated by color, by style, by pre-pack, by whatever. Some want the extra-longs separated from the regulars, etc. Any which way we are instructed, is the way we ship. It seems a small detail but it shows again how Harry Bachrach works. We are a full service house for the Necktie Industry. Not just a design studio, not a sewing factory, not a weaver, nor a printer and yet we are all of these. We live by the motto. Give our Clients what they ask for when they ask for it. Wait for the Money Oh, I almost forgot this one. After we ship the final product and after we do all of the above … we have to wait for the money; sometimes for a period far in excess of the terms agreed upon.

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