It's knot over yet: The Tie Rack chain has finally come undone just when it looks as though formal neckwear might be on the up again
Rebecca Gonsalves says farewell to an institution
And lo, another great British name has fallen. Tie Rack goes the way of those retail institutions so familiar that it's hard to remember a time when they weren't there – though on reflection, it's even harder to remember the last time you set foot in one.
With payday-loan companies, pound stores and charity shops, the modern high street is a hostile place for many retailers, so news that Tie Rack is planning to close its remaining 44 UK stores is hardly surprising. What was once a brilliant retail concept – a shop offering affordable, high-quality silk ties – has gone the way of so many other single-item specialists.
Founded in 1981 by South African shoe-bar owner Roy Bishko, Tie Rack emerged on to a high street far inferior to the one we are now familiar with, facing competition from C&A and Mr Byrite. Once renowned for quality, Tie Rack reached its peak in 1998 with 450 stores nationwide, and was such a successful concept that a former employee, Sophie Mirman, aped it with the Sock Shop chain, whose 52 stores made her Britain's youngest millionaire.
But over the years, the brand became associated not with forward thinking but with quick fixes – the duty-free saviour when on the way to a business meeting abroad, or a last-minute thoughtless gift for the business executive in your life at Christmas.
There was more to the brand than just ties, with handkerchiefs, gloves and cufflinks all to be found under one roof. In fact, reports that just one in five of the brand's sales came from its namesake product indicate that this was a brand that had sadly lost its way.
In 2011, Black Label, a premium line of cashmere, silk and Italian leather, was launched in the hope of staunching the continuing decline of the retailer, but with competitors that could suit, boot and accessorise their customers under one roof. It came as too little, too late.
The closure of the beleaguered business is being blamed on the rise of business casualwear, which is certainly visible. If even the likes of David Cameron and Barack Obama can't be relied upon to wear a tie at all times, then who is likely to keep up a tradition that first emerged in the late 1860s with the four-in-hand knot most will remember from their schooldays?
The Mad Men effect may have reintroduced dandy touches such as pocket squares and tiepins to the mainstream, but ties were notable by their absence from many of the catwalks for autumn/winter 2013. Gucci, Agi & Sam, and even Hermès showed buttoned-up shirts and suits without ties, while Hardy Amies and E Tautz, the ready-to-wear line of Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons, stayed true to tradition.
Although the mandatory uniform of suit and tie may be on the wane in the workplace, there are still plenty of dapper chaps out there who opt for pure silk from the likes of Hermès, Tom Ford and Paul Smith to complement their well-cut suits, viewing such an extravagance as an investment as well as a front-and-centre status symbol.
But it's not just schoolboys and stockbrokers who can be relied upon to tie one on – Topman reports that sales of ties are up 10 per cent on last autumn/winter, its best-seller being a black skinny version which channels the "Mod" look that is perennially popular among its youthful clientele. The high-street store is even extending its fashion-specific skinny styles, with a range of options that include floral prints and black denim.
Tie Rack fans – there must be some, the company still turned over some £68m in 2011 – shouldn't weep just yet, though. Stores won't close until 27 December, so there's plenty of time to stock up on stocking fillers.
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