New York City art dealer Barry Friedman often is surrounded by masterpieces, but some of his favorite paintings are worn around his neck.
“To me, they’re works of art,” says Friedman, 69, about his dazzling collection of more than 10,000 neckties, most designed during the 1940s and 1950s. “The ties that are hand painted on silk are just exquisite. They’re like abstract paintings.”
Although Friedman has “hundreds of favorites,” among his most valuable ties are 88 different designs by surrealist artist Salvador Dali. Finding even one Dali tie today is a thrill and can cost a collector a few hundred bucks.
“They just don’t make ties like this anymore,” says Friedman as he fingers a luxurious, silky-soft tie bearing one of Dali’s imaginative melting-clock images.
In a room in his Manhattan apartment, Friedman displays his colorful neckwear, 80 to a rack, organized by artist and themes. He owns a complete set of 48 “Panorama of America” ties painted during the 1940s by artist George Schreiber to represent each state. Many World War II-era necktie artists remained anonymous, though their brushstrokes bring to life scenes featuring bucking broncos, duck hunters, pinup girls, mountain vistas, sailboats and skyscrapers.
“A lot of artists in the 1940s were out of work because of the war and painted ties, but they wouldn’t sign them because they were embarrassed,” says Friedman, who owns three New York City art galleries.
During the tie’s glory days from 1945 to 1955, after the austere wartime years, manufacturers introduced flashy colors and patterns, such as geometric shapes, lightning bolts and leaping gazelles. In Freidman’s collection are dozens of the era’s novelty ties, including images of sunbathers with tiny removable sunglasses and horses adorned with sequins and braided harnesses.
Friedman’s neckties depict men’s hobbies and interests with images of bowlers, fishermen, snow skiers and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Other ties advertise products—Red Rooster Coffee, Wonder Bread and Union Pacific Railroad—and endorse presidential candidates, including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. One entire rack holds ties emblazoned with color photographs, including a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
Nearly every tie in Friedman’s collection is a rarity, but that wasn’t the case when he began buying neckwear 35 years ago. He and his wife, Patricia Pastor, a former fashion designer for Perry Ellis, are longtime fans of vintage clothing.
“In the old days, I’d fly out to a clothing fair in California and I couldn’t carry all the ties I could find—and at reasonable prices,” Friedman recalls. “Today, you can go to a hundred vintage clothing fairs and shows and not find a single hand-painted silk tie.”
Though Friedman doesn’t remember where he bought his first necktie, he recalls sporting a bowtie as a fashionable lad of 10. “I had a bowtie I loved as a kid. It was like Uncle Miltie’s,” says Friedman, referring to comedian Milton Berle’s trademark tie.
Neckware historian Richard Arutunian calls Friedman’s collection top drawer. “Barry has one of the most valuable tie collections in the world,” says Arutunian, 76, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., who worked for 50 years in the men’s apparel business and designed ties under his own Saint Pierre label. “He knows his stuff.”
Eventually, Friedman hopes to showcase his necktie collection in a book, a museum or as a traveling exhibit. Until then, he keeps about 100 ties in his bedroom closet to limit his daily wardrobe choices.
I love the designs,” he says about the art that he wears close to his heart.
Neckwear in History
The earliest evidence of neckwear dates from 221 B.C. on sculpted soldiers that guard the tomb of China's first emperor. In about 1650, neckcloths or cravats became fashionable attire in France. By the 1840s, the word "tie" had replaced "cravat" and mass-produced neckties were on the market by the 1860s.