Pulse: Tastemaker: Mr. Necktie
Most every morning, Jerry Myers, 81, steps off an elevator into the New York City headquarters of Ralph Lauren. The 30-second ride to the seventh floor is the shortest part of his commute, which starts at 6:20 a.m., when he walks out the door of the Bala Cynwyd house he’s lived in for 46 years, drives his black Jaguar to 30th Street Station, reads the New York Times for the one-hour-and-20-minute train ride, and takes a cab to the Madison Avenue skyscraper where designers are creating clothes that will wear the Ralph Lauren label. Myers is one of them: He is the tie guy.
Inside, he’s greeted with plaid walls, buttery leather couches, paintings of hunting expeditions. This is Ralph Lauren world, a world where straight-backed men win polo matches (in classic-fit rugbys) under the serene gaze of silky-haired wives (in cable cashmere sweaters). Fashion writers use words like timeless or American classic when they describe the various collections. Myers, the senior VP of neckwear, leads a team of six that translates that Ralph Lauren essence into a little less than a third of a yard of silk.
Like stiletto heels and gin martinis, neckties appear to be forever. Even Business Casual couldn’t kill them off, mostly thanks to the whole metrosexual thing — “The Peacock Revolution,” Myers calls it, “with due respect to a young generation who are dressing in tastier ways.” Ties seem an apt profession for a gentleman who still situates himself on the sidewalk’s street side when walking with a lady; whose desk pointedly lacks a computer; who likes jazz and makes time for tennis; who is an impeccable dresser, from his brown-and-white loafers (sans socks) up to his sharp yellow tie (Ralph Lauren Polo, of course).
It all started when the West Philly native — always a lover of style — left a job in real estate in his early 30s to start up a necktie company, Rooster, Inc., with a silent partner. He traveled often, leaving his wife Phyllis (who was in antiques) with their two sons, while he oversaw the designing, production and sale of the ties. The company was a hit; Rooster sold at Bloomingdale’s and Wanamaker’s. When, 28 years in, the duo sold the business, Myers was a free agent for about a minute before fashion label Nautica snatched him up to launch its first tie line; a few years passed, and Burberry asked him to consult. He wasn’t just a tie guy; he was the tie guy. It wasn’t until 1994 that Ralph Lauren came calling. “Instead of retiring,” Myers says, “I started all over again at 65. No hesitation. The idea of being associated with Ralph Lauren was always appealing.”
And so for the past 15 years, the man who makes every Ralph Lauren necktie come to life (that’s six labels, each with a different stylistic bent) has traveled from Philadelphia to New York, and from New York to Europe, to the world’s best printing and weaving mills. “The necktie business is the textile business,” he says. “We concentrate on developing beautiful fabrics as we envision them, in the form of a tie. It’s an art.” No, not every tie guy goes to these lengths, but then again, the tie biz isn’t what it once was. “When I started in the necktie business, there were 11 manufacturers in Philadelphia,” Myers recalls. “Now, there might be one.”
Ah, well, his shoulders shrug — that’s fashion. But his job remains ever relevant: “Ties, more than anything else, give men opportunity to express themselves. There are still hundreds of thousands sold every year.” He smiles. “Fortunately.”