Being formal doesn’t mean old-fashioned, says FUNKE OSAE-BROWN, as designers are adventurously embracing new expressions of black tie
Folusho Phillips loves the bow tie. As the chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), he is often seen in business circles spotting one shade of bow tie or another. He wears the classic black only to strictly black tie event.
What makes him exceptional is he buys the fabric for his ties himself making them into nice bespoke pieces. He started collecting bow ties more than twenty years ago and he has over 200 pieces in his collection.
“Why do I love bow ties? More distinguished, different, not everyone can knot the tie – that makes a difference,” he tells me.
It is for lovers of ties with renowned taste like Phillips that designers are recreating the black tie. Black-tie tailoring is experiencing significant changes as designers and tailors are taking creative liberties with it.
In Nigeria, ties are still largely imported. It wearers are mostly influenced by their British or American background while studying abroad or as business men who constantly travel to Britain or America for business meetings.
The black tie has a long history of tailoring as designers across ages have tried to redefine it. Take for instance, Thom Browne, one of the most celebrated designers in New York, United States. His 1950s modernist cut, with shortened arm and trouser lengths, finds its most powerful and influential expression in his version of the tuxedo that comes with silk-faille lapels or grosgrain-tipped ones.
Browne uses familiar fabrics like wool or mohair but what makes his style unique is the detail and proportion. He is a lover of tuxedo because of its backstory as a truly American formal clothing, that can be both subversive and playful.
It is this distinguishing feature of the tuxedo that made Folusho Phillips switch from the convention long tie to the bow tie some 20 years ago. “I just saw the loose bow ties at Selfridges,” he explains in a Whatsapp chat, “and bought a couple. “When I got home, I did not have a clue of how to knit the bow tie and literally battled for hours and gave up for a few days and then went back to it again. I finally created some version of some kind of a bow tie. I used the bow tie occasionally until on one trip I must have bought about 10 at a go simply because they were on sale and I had not learnt to identify the quality versions.”
Bayode Oduwole, creative director at Pokit, a London outfitter known for its individual, modernist approach to tailoring told How To Spend It in a report that The Americans have been more liberated in the way they wear the black tie. “I love the pre-Rat Pack era suits, which were in salmon pink or Panama blue,” he told How To Spend IT. “At Pokit, we produce black tie [made-to-measure suits from £995] that’s either old-school American, in tartan with black lapels, or very English, with a 1950s silhouette and a straight trouser rather than the style that came in after the 1960s, when dinner jackets used a lot of shiny satin.”
Fit and proportion apart, there are tailors and designers who are making assertive moves in terms of the essential silhouette of black tie. More than ever, designers are working on the fluidity of the tie silhouette combining it perfectly with tuxedos. Contemporary high-end designers now take a slim approach to black tie a look that has grown stronger and more refined since designer Raf Simons created it in the late 1990s.
Some of the outstanding slim‑fit tuxedos at Burberry come in black mohair and navy wool or mohair and at Z Zegna with a contemporary shawl collar, while at Givenchy fully canvassed suits in barathea wool with shawl collars come with a strong shoulder silhouette, as part of Riccardo Tisci’s Tuxedo Capsule Collection.
In addition, some designers are adding a great deal of playfulness to their tuxedo designs. For example, Dean and Dan Caten, the twin brothers behind the Italian label DSquared2, give their tuxedos a modern, playful approach by combining different fabrics and subtle details. Their designs make it possible for each suit to be quickly altered to create a more flattering look, close to made to measure.
Furthermore, the bow tie is being renewed from outdated narrow black styles to bright patterns. Consumers are now looking to the evergreen archives of classic outfitters. For example, Budd in Mayfair stocks a collection of exceptional choices, including the soft colours of madder silk, La Coupée and the Oyster Point, which has a great monochrome print by Claire Gaudion, inspired by the landscape of Herm Island, off the coast of Guernsey.
“Some ties lend themselves,” says Phillips, “to making good knots that sit properly on the shirt collar. Some end up having funny shapes, especially when you have depressed them with your chin working on your table all day. The good fabric ties just knot better and it takes experience to know. I do not have a particular brand. I even make my own by buying fabric.”
No matter how you chose to wear the black tie either with a tuxedo or a mere suit, the truth is designers are updating classics for adventurous individuals who are cautious of their appearance.