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July 19, 2020

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The waning appeal of finely crafted ties

FILM star Marcello Mastroianni, John F. Kennedy, Prince Charles — all have donned handmade ties from one shop in Naples so famous for its artisanal finery that some devotees own thousands of their wares.

The painstaking needlework can’t be rushed despite demand for E. Marinella ties usually far outstripping supply.

In Naples, the tiny shop near the sea remains much as it was when it opened in 1914 with its wood-framed windows, chandelier and counter where the red, blue, polka-dot and diamond-patterned ties are displayed.

Maurizio Marinella, 64, the third generation of his family to lead the company, thinks E. Marinella’s success in the southern Italian city, which struggles with poverty and unemployment, is “a kind of miracle.”

“It all started with 20 square meters in Naples where everything is a little more difficult than elsewhere,” Marinella said.

His grandfather Eugenio wanted to create “a little corner of England in Naples” — in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius — offering men’s shirts and accessories with fabrics shipped directly across the English Channel.

Little by little, however, the tie became the company’s signature piece.

Attention to detail

The silk is still hand printed in Macclesfield, England, and the ties are sewn by hand in a workshop with 20 seamstresses close to the boutique.

Loyal customer Rudy Girardi has frequented the shop since his late teens and now owns thousands of Marinella ties, which cost between 130 (US$147.98) and 215 euros.

“The tie is fundamental as a sign of respect,” Girardi said, and he loves E. Marinella for its “maniacal care for every detail.”

Girardi changes his ties several times a day, selecting a colorful one in the morning, something a little more institutional in the afternoon and an elegant adornment for upmarket dinners.

Each Marinella tie takes about 45 minutes to make with 10 steps in all, from cutting the silk to stitching the fabric to adding the loop and label.

“It’s precision work comparable to that of a goldsmith,” said Maria Rosaria Guarino, a 38-year veteran of the company. “We work on half millimeters.”

Customers can personalize the length, width and thickness of the ties.

Every day, about 150 ties are produced, but demand before the coronavirus outbreak was as much as two or three times higher. Moreover, in the three months leading up to Christmas, demand could be “as high as 900 ties a day,” Marinella said.

The company ruled out making more, however, saying it would compromise quality.

“Each tie is a unique work of art,” he said. “Quality is almost an obsession for me.”

Almost every day at 6:30am, including Sundays, Marinella arrives at the shop to “welcome customers, pamper them and serve coffee” in the Neapolitan tradition.

While E. Marinelli’s net sales were 18 million euros in 2019, it expects to see a significant drop this year because of the pandemic, which forced the shop to close, crushed tourism and cancelled many formal events.

Alas, the entire industry had fallen on hard times even before the pandemic.

Exports of neckties and bow ties fell by 10 percent between 2015 and 2019 with Chinese products making up 46.5 percent of the market — compared to 13.6 percent for Italy — according to the International Trade Center.

Fashion trends are the culprit. Young people eschew ties, and some big firms and banks have made wearing them optional.

“Fortunately, fashions are cyclical,” said 25-year-old Alessandro Marinella, “Lately, we’ve seen a bit of a shift away from street wear to classic fashion.”


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