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The Directory: Printastic bow ties

How a self-taught bow tie maker decided to start his own funky label

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He grew up seeing his father and grand father wearing bow ties, eventually took to the accessory himself. Charles Olive graduated to designing his own line of bow ties 18 months ago and launched his brand earlier this month.

What sets his collection apart, however, is that they’re designed entirely in Excel. And yes, they deliver to the UAE.

Coming from an online marketing background, Olive worked for advertising agencies and technology startups mostly. “I think this is why I was so keen to start the label, so I could create a physical product rather than a digital one,” he says.

Olive tells The Directory about his passion.

Q: Why bow ties?

A: Both my father and grandfather wore bow ties and I’ve been wearing them every day for the past few years. Bow ties are exciting because, being such a small item, you can really experiment with bold colours without overpowering your outfit.

Q: Was there a specific point where you fell in love with bow ties?

A: A lot of people think that bow ties are extravagant but seeing my dad wear one every day, I came to view them as normal. I think when I turned 30 I wanted to smarten up my image so bow ties were the natural choice.

Q: How did you go from being a wearer of bow ties to a designer and manufacturer of them?

A: Once I started wearing bow ties I quite quickly built large collection but it was starting to get expensive. One day I bought myself a sewing machine and taught myself how to make a bow tie thinking that it would save me money in the long term. I never really thought I’d be doing it full time.

Q: Tell us about the design process – How do you go from an Excel sheet (that few find exciting) to a print design that’s a fashion statement?

A: Well, I’ve always been a fan of geometric patterns and people like [textile artist] Anni Albers, who was part of the Bauhaus. I used to use Excel a lot for my job and I would get bored and start colouring in the cells to make Albers-esque patterns.

Sometimes I start from a blank sheet with no idea and sometimes I try and replicate a pattern I’ve seen on a pavement or a photo of buildings. Excel has a limited colour palette so it forces you to use simple colours that are often very striking.

Q: How big is your team and are they all bow tie fans?

A: The team is fairly small. The business is just me and I have some friends in the fashion industry that are my advisors. I’m not sure if they used to be bow ties fans but they certainly are now.

We first we source the silk, which is a heavyweight twill and it is sent to our printer. We digitally print all our designs on the silk - coming from an online background I was very keen to mix up modern technology with older craft skills. Once the fabric is printed it goes over to our manufacturer, who has been making ties and bow ties for generations.

Q: When (and how) did bow ties go from being the domain of stuffy college professors to the pinnacle of artsy cool fashion?

A: The bow tie is an interesting item as it’s even older than a normal neck tie. In various phases of history it comes into fashion and then goes out. Ralph Lauren when he first set up his label just made bow ties, so they must have been cool back then! I just think it’s something cyclical.

I actually like the aesthetic of stuffy college professors, but I guess these days a lot of men don’t even wear a neck tie so the choice of wearing a bow tie is a lot easier.

I think we’re at an interesting point in menswear where men are experimenting more with colour and pattern. The bow tie is perfect for this because it really allows people to wear striking colours and patterns but still feel safe.

Q: Do you have any tips for those of us struggling to tie a bow tie?

A: I think the trick to remember is that it is the same knot that you use to tie your shoe laces. Also, don’t be scared - a lot of people make them too loose - just give it a tug.

Q: And is there any shame in wearing a pre-tied one?

A: I don’t think there’s any shame in wearing a pre-tied one, but pre-tied bow ties always look the same. The lovely thing about tying it yourself is that throughout the day the shape changes slightly and it gives off a much more relaxed feeling.

Q: What are accessories do you see the brand going into?

A: I think pocket squares would be the natural accompaniment to the bow ties. As a print designer I’d love to work with things like socks and scarves, but for the moment I think the focus will be on bow ties for a few seasons.

Q: What’s next for bow ties? How much can this item still evolve or do you think it has a shelf life?

A: Being a print designer, I think the possibilities are endless. Obviously the actual shapes of bow ties can change slightly and they all give a different look. If you consider the bow tie as a very small canvas, it really then is just up to the imagination to decide what will go on there.

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