HGTV star Tommy Smythe collars the bow tie
Thanks to that whole hipster/geek-chic thing, several sartorial staples from your grandfather’s era have made a comeback in recent seasons. Cardigans and brogues broke out of the rest homes and into the clubs, and suspenders seem poised to hold up their end of the bargain, with chains like H&M proudly featuring skinny clip-on versions (read: purely cosmetic) in their latest ad campaigns.
But for all the success of these stylish revivals, none has matched the cultural pervasiveness and sheer moxie of the bow tie. No longer relegated to octogenarian popcorn magnates and costumey bellhops, the bow tie is seeing a renaissance that has captured the imagination of a wide swath of natty dressers, from baristas to bankers.
“I’ve been wearing bow ties since I was a teenager,” says designer and HGTV star Tommy Smythe—who will be speaking at this weekend’s IDSwest design show—on the phone from his Toronto studio. “Originally I just learned how to tie them and wore them to weddings and formal events. They didn’t really make their way into my day-to-day professional wardrobe until I started working within the design world and [had] to dress the part.”
Smythe’s penchant for colourful neck flair soon became his on-air trademark, with viewers writing in to ask him where he found his ties. “I have a few stores I like to buy from in Toronto and New York and London,” he admits, “but it was getting harder and harder for me to find something I wanted to wear that married luxury materials with a youthful approach. So I started my own line.”
Smythe, whose sister Christie Smythe is a fashion designer favoured by the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton), collaborated with two long-time friends, designer D’Arcy St. Pierre and graphic artist Patrick Lightheart, to create his eponymous satellite collection. Tommy Smythe for Maison St. Pierre employs Italian silks and cashmere knits, offering three traditional styles—a classic “thistle” or butterfly cut, a blunt-ended “bat wing”, and a pointed-tip “varsity”, as well as one rather unique, rounded design that Smythe and company have dubbed the “otter tail”.
“I don’t know that I created something completely new, but I haven’t seen anything like it or anyone else making it,” he says of that last one. “It’s the most versatile cut in the line because it’s so relaxed-looking. It’s the closest thing to an everyday bow tie.”
It comes as no surprise that an elfin interior designer with a love of fashion would wear bow ties as a signature look; that’s practically a given. It’s more a testament to the unexpected power of the bow tie that a trio of young turks in Calgary started an international club for aficionados called Bow Tie Thursdays.
Founded in February 2011 as something of a drunken dare, the inaugural event saw oil-and-gas guys Danny Way, Ryan Bottoms, and Nathan Steeghs walking through Cowtown’s elevated walkways at lunch wearing their wildest bows. Part quirky office goof and part networking event, attendance at the first-Thursday-of-the-month get-togethers in downtown bars and restaurants grew into the hundreds and sparked offshoots in Vancouver and, more recently, Perth, Australia. (A Toronto chapter is in the works.) According to cofounder Steeghs, who launched the Vancouver chapter this past April after being transferred here, the next step will be to incorporate a charity component in order to harness the power of bow ties for social good.
Knot a bad idea.