Styleforum reached out to me weeks ago and asked for a write up about Yellow Hook. Weeks ago.
I thought about it and wrote up a little summary about what I felt Yellow Hook was, and how we worked. It was terrible. I was trying to cover the phoniness of what I was saying with humor, and it was clear neither was fooling anyone. So I started over, more simply, I got real with myself.
What is Yellow Hook? What do I want it to become? What is my role, and how has Styleforum helped foster Yellow Hook Necktie Co, and the image of it that I see moving forward?
First of all, we are VERY different, uniquely and unapologetically Old Brooklyn. Brook-a-leen, if you will.
My Grandfather in his Williamsburg Social Club 1950s
My Grandmother with Her's and Her Parents at Coney Island 1917
Bygone Brooklyn - Found
This is not my only gig and this is not my “bread winning” brilliant vision. It’s what I do for enjoyment. Much like #menswear has become an outlet for my creative juices, my tie line is an extension of that. I could tell you about how my nose is to the grindstone since Yellow Hook has launched, but it would all be bullshit. It’s not. My nose is fine, so is my career as an American educator in Brooklyn.
So what was important enough to launch this? Well, for starters, as I mentioned, it’s a way for me to have an outlet for my creativity. Designing and creating neckwear isn’t something someone is born dying to do. It’s a start for many in the fashion industry, as it was for Ralph Lipshitz of the Bronx. However, I don’t envision that for Yellow Hook, nor am I sure I want that kind of growth. I don’t want outlet stores across the country, or my product on the shelves of massive department stores. I want our ties to remain as special and unique as the people who design and make them.
Yellow Hook is my wife and I, we’re small, and we will stay that way. We make our ties one at a time, entirely by hand, right here in Brooklyn. We are quirky, different. My wife is a painter and has always painted surrealistic scenes on canvas that get people to scratch their heads a little bit, but are beautiful in their own right. I like creating connections, whether its in the classroom with my History students, or in my wardrobe with my selections, I like the way that one thing connects to an aspect of my life, whether it’s the pink tape I use on my hockey sticks to remind me of my daughter, or the neon Nike’s I wear from time to time to remind me of my son’s bright blonde hair and his beautiful blue green eyes. We both plan to use our individual talents to select all of the fabrics we use at Yellow Hook and help create a piece, individual and unique, that connects to the place we call home, Brooklyn.
These unique cloths are like rare small batch bourbons, another passion of mine. Once they go, they’re gone and you won’t see them anymore. I will always try and find interesting cloths, from right here in New York City, that I’m confident are out of production and won’t ever be made again. Because we’re just over the Brooklyn Bridge from the creative center of the world, these end bolts are plentiful if you know where to look. Finding pieces dating back to as early as the turn of the 20th Century is exciting, but many of these pieces are unsuited for use as a garment, let alone a necktie, which is one of the more strained pieces of menswear. So we have to pass on many great looking pieces that just won’t perform to the high standards Yellow Hook has set. The one’s we can go forward with are filled with the history and character that so many have grown to love about our beloved borough.
It all got started about a year ago. One July evening coming home from a BBQ my wife and I got into a discussion about our careers. We both teach in a K-8 public school in Brooklyn. She teaches Visual Arts and I teach History. We were talking about how we just weren’t feeling fulfilled creatively doing what we do, but also knew that our career was one worth too much to society, and to ourselves, to just pick up and leave. So we started talking about a few of Styleforum’s own entrepreneurs. Ed Morel at Panta, Gerald Shen at Vanda, and Kent Wang at his own shop. We also saw how content Mike Kuhl and his wife Adele were since starting Epaulet in 2008 and we thought about what we might be able to add to that Styleforum inspired menswear community.
I didn’t want to kid myself though. My wife has incredible abilities with a needle, but to say she works very slowly is an understatement. The first thing she ever made for me start to finish, was a BEAUTIFUL Zegna 15milmil15 six fold tie which now has a happy home in Maryland with Styleforum’s own Institches. It was (and is) gorgeous. Completely hand rolled edges, entirely cut and pressed by hand, and sewn 100% by hand, the tie took her damn near 8 hours to complete. If this was going to be our business model, we wouldn’t get very far because on top of our day jobs, which keep us insanely busy from September to June, we have two beautiful young children at home. We decided against going with one of the handful of tie producers here in New York City, not because of cost, but because we really wanted to keep our ties a labor of love, made completely from start to finish by hand, so we can bring to our customers the same joy that the Zegna brought to me. The only think I can sew, well, isn’t even what I reap. So the interview process started.
We put an ad out on craigslist and placed flyers throughout Brooklyn trying to find the right fit. Almost immediately we found out what it was like to have people “work for you”. If it wasn’t so frustrating, it would have been very comical. Some of the sample ties we got back from applicants were pretty appalling. “Interesting” shapes I hadn’t seen since my Junior Year Math Regents exam in high school, sloppy handwork, and one woman who just up and disappeared. Once we did feel like we found someone we were thrilled, but this thrill proved to be short lived. Our first maker, Jene, was very sweet, however after a few missed deadlines and a bunch of “someone gave me a better offer” emails when we asked why deadlines were not met, we decided that we had to terminate our relationship with her as well. Luckily after we hired Jene, we also interviewed Maria.
Maria is a lovely older Sicilian woman who has been making clothing for herself and her family since she was a young girl in the old country. She also shares my passion for fabrics, and we’ve had many discussions over espresso, about the qualities a good cloth should have. She also made it clear, that like us, this was not something she was doing to pay the rent. She was doing this because she LOVES to make things, and she loves the fabrics we choose to make our ties.
At first I was upset with just how slow the ties were coming back, and Maria was getting stressed, something neither of us wanted. But then, just recently in fact, it hit me square in the face. I don’t want to make millions and build an empire from my ties. I don’t have to. My job offers me financial stability, PLUS the time to spend with the people I love, my wife and two kids. I was making ties because I love ties, and I love wearing them. Maria was making them because she LOVES making them. A Yellow Hook Tie really is a true labor of love.
I mentioned earlier how I enjoyed making connection from History to my students’ lives as a teacher. That’s when I realized that the connection I was making was with the generations who came before me to this great place I call home, Brooklyn. At one point in time, Brooklyn was the center of the world’s garment manufacturing. Right here. As bellowed by Lou Monte in the Italian-American Christmas Carol Dominik the Italian Christmas Donkey, a song sung in plain old Brooklynese “The label on the inside said it’s made in ‘Brook-a-leen’”.
Brook-a-leen was where I was born, where I live, where I work. It’s my home, and it always has been, even after my family, like millions of others, stepped onto the “Guinea Gangplank” (The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island, and points west) in 1970 and spread their roots across the Narrows. Brook-a-leen is the place I grew up loving, before it saw its first million-dollar brownstone or fixed gear bicyclist, the place where if you went to Red Hook and you weren’t a longshoreman or Teamster, you’d be in trouble. It’s where I grew up, working my first jobs as a teenager and it’s where my ancestors settled when they arrived on these shores one hundred and thirty two years ago from the mountains of Southern Italy.
When they arrived here, they made things, great things. The first to arrive was my uncle Giuseppe, all the way back in 1880. On his first tour of duty in the United States, he helped create the modern New York skyline working for John A Roebling constructing the Brooklyn Bridge. My uncle Michele made the flour that supplied all the bakeries that gave you Italian Bread, because any New Yorker worth their salt knew the best bread (and bagels, and pizza) came from Brook-a-leen. My two uncles, Antonio and Vincenzo made coats, suits, pants, shirts and ties as custom tailors right here on 18th Avenue and 86th Street. Vincenzo Dondiego in fact, was the personal tailor of the world famous Flo Ziegfeld, creator of Ziegfeld’s Follies. My family also helped shaped the style of the place I call home by cutting hair, and shaving discerning customers, Brooklynites like me, in my great grandfather’s Coney Island barber shop at 2202 Surf Avenue, a structure that survived the wrath of Superstorm Sandy as well.
Antonio Dondiego and Family circa 1930's
My great grandfather, Leo Dondiego, and his barber shop license from the mid 1920's
My family shaped the style of Brooklyn while Brooklyn was shaping the style of the world. I’m hoping to bring a little of that back to life through my ties, made just the way my great-great uncles Vincenzo and Antonio would have made their wares, and how my great grandfather Leonardo would have shaped up someone’s hair, by hand, the old-fashioned Brooklyn way. That’s why I think Yellow Hook Ties are so special. They’re small batch, limited edition pieces made with love and delicate care right here in Brooklyn, the center of my world. I hope those who enjoy my ties feel that same connection and even if they’re as far away as Scandinavia, they get a little taste of my Brooklyn, the bagels, cheesecake, and pizza, whenever they tie on a Yellow Hook.
Edited by NewYorkIslander - 6/11/13 at 5:47am