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The Hottest Product at Hermès? It’s Not a Bag—It’s the Necktie

Mar 14, 2023

By Samuel Hine

As the creative director of men's silk at Hermès, Christophe Goineau has one of the more enchanting jobs in fashion. He oversees the most fanciful of product lines, the accessories—scarves, ties, pocket squares, and the like—that add a little indulgent flourish to one's outfit. Goineau sees the role of the tie as particularly special. At Hermès, "we don't have so many products that are in a way so emotional," he says. "Maybe because it's the center of the body…I don't think we have many products that are so close to our customer."

But even Goineau was shocked by how many ties the French luxury powerhouse has sold in the past year. "I didn't know that the tie was going to be a hot product like it is now," he says. According to a 2022 financial report, the brand's silk business was up 20%. (By comparison, the leather goods—i.e. intensely covetable handbags—and saddlery line was up 16%.)

We’re sitting in a booth at The Odeon in New York's Tribeca neighborhood. In a few hours, Goineau will host a dinner celebrating his beloved ties. The trim Frenchman is wearing one, a navy silk tie with cream polka dots, over a tattersall plaid shirt. "When I was young we had very specific rules," he says. "I remember my father would tell me, for example, Don't wear dots with squares."

As I went about my day, I kept track of how many times I saw someone wearing a necktie in and around GQ's office, once arguably the global epicenter of casual tie-wearing. You might not be totally surprised to hear that I was able to count them on one hand. In the 15 years since Goineau joined the Hermès silk department—he's been with the Parisian luxury powerhouse for 35 years, or since he was four, he jokes—the tie's presence in daily life has fallen off a cliff. First came the mass relaxing of office dress codes, a long slide that began when Millennials joined the workforce, and which culminated in 2016 when JPMorgan launched a trend among big banks when it announced employees could show up to work in business casual attire. Then came the pandemic.

Goineau at The Odeon.

I ask him why, exactly, he is throwing a tie-themed dinner party in downtown New York in 2023. "If you were asking me the same question maybe two years ago," he says, "I would not be as optimistic as I am today."

It wasn't surprising, Goineau tells me, that tie sales dropped during the work-from-home era. But then, almost as quickly, they rebounded. This year, Hermès tie sales returned to 2019 levels. (Leading up to the pandemic, sales had been slowly but steadily increasing.) In a tieless world, the Hermès tie is, paradoxically, surging in popularity. "I didn't know that it was going to recover as fast as that," Goineau says.

In the past few years, one of the prevailing trends in men's fashion—borne out on the runways and in the market—has been a return to dressiness, stoked by an explosion of weddings and parties, and a souring on the soft, shapeless clothing of our homebound lives. But the revival of the Hermès tie adds an interesting wrinkle to this elegant new era, which many have identified as heralding a "quiet luxury" style revolution. With their bright tones and expressive patterns, most Hermès ties are pure whimsy. "If you look at the Hermès tie, they are colorful. They are soft and very light. In a way, I think that we could even say that they are quite feminine," says Goineau. This "emotional" approach to style has connected squarely with a distinctly younger customer, according to Goineau, who has noted a new generation flocking to the silks department in the last few years.

Hermès introduced its men's necktie in the 1950s. As the story goes, an Hermès shop in Cannes began selling them to gamblers who needed neckwear to enter a nearby casino. In the ’80s, the company added a series of ties covered in intricately drawn animals: prancing horses, in the brand's equestrian tradition, were joined by flying elephants, swinging monkeys, and pandas cuddling Hermès jewelry. Businessmen, moguls, and politicians, who were otherwise stuck with dark navy suits and white dress shirts, couldn't get enough of the cheeky collectible neckwear, and by the late ’90s, the brand was selling more than one million ties a year.

Now that not even G7 world leaders wear neckties, the next generation is carrying the obsession forward. Even if the Hermès tie's renewed grail status wasn't evident just yet on the streets of Tribeca, inside The Odeon, the waitstaff displayed some of the ways the tie's strict rep could be loosened, spiritually if not practically. Before dinner kicked off, the stylist Ryan Young stood in a corner twisting the fine silks like balloon animals: one server sported a necktie origami-d into an oversized bow, another had three ties erupting in concert out of their collar. A bartender sported criss-cross suspenders made of interwoven patterned cravats. "They are just having fun," says Goineau of Hermès's younger customers. "It was a part of a uniform, and now it's the opposite. The young guys see the tie as a touch of fantasy in a way. It's quite different, they don't use the product the same way as we do."

By Gerald Ortiz

By The Editors of GQ

By Gerald Ortiz

Hermès can't rely on every new customer to embrace the ties of their fathers’ generation. (That generation, by the way, is still buying ties in droves, but "by one or two, rather than by 10 or 20," says Goineau.) So they’re meeting the young breed of style maverick where they are, too, by introducing knit ties, ties with more contemporary narrow widths, and even ties made out of leather—new directions on which Goineau consults with Véronique Nichanian, the artistic director of the Hermès’ men's universe who oversees the runway collections. "Véronique loves the ties," Goineau says. "She has a point of view with the ties, and she always says to me, ‘Okay, but a guy is more sexy with a tie.’ And I say, ‘Yes, I hope so.’"

Before we join the dinner party, Goineau fills me in on a misperception he needs help correcting. "To be honest, I don't like the fact that when we are talking about the tie, we say ‘accessory,’ meaning something we can remove. Something that is not important." To Goineau, ties play much more than a supporting role in one's outfit. In a strange world, he argues, indulging in a touch of imagination through these intimate objects is downright essential. "For years, I’ve been trying to find a word that would say something different than ‘accessories,’" he says. "I haven't found it yet. Maybe one day."