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Interviews

Benedikt Fries (Shibumi Handmade Ties)

October 28, 2013

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Along with Niels Holdorf you have founded a very promising tie label named Shibumi, a name inspired by the Japanese concept which refer to a particular aesthetic of subtle and unobtrusive beauty. What inspired you in chosing this name?

We didn’t want anything that sounded like a heritage we didn’t have (I mean, we could have called ourselves Oxford Brothers or whatnot). We thought about just combining our names which would have been simple and honest, but my name is Fries… In German, it doesn’t mean anything (and is pronounced more like “freeze” by the way), but I think you understand the problem.

Niels then mentioned this concept he liked and I was immediately taken by it. He wasn’t so sure, thought it might sound too outlandish or intellectual, but eventually I overcame his doubts – and here we are.

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Shibumi is a young company growing in a quite tough economic climate. How did this decision come about?

First of all, I don’t think the tough economic climate has that much influence on us. We don’t do your typical luxury good where you spend a lot of money and get prestige in return. We do something for the connoisseur, the enthusiast, people that are really passionate about things like handwork and products with a rich history.

And anyway, we just wanted to do what we love and what we are good at – if it hadn’t worked out, fine – but we would at least have tried to have our dream jobs. Fortunately, we have been received quite well so far.

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Have you always had an interest in that regard?

I was always very interested in clothing, but I only started being interested in classic menswear about four years ago. Since then I couldn’t be more enthusiastic.

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Please tell me more about the synergy between the two of you. How did you meet and when did you decided it is the time to start a tie business?

We have different talents and we know how to complement each other. For example: Niels is very good at writing and speaking; I’m good at organizing. Mainly we have a pretty similiar taste. But Niels’ taste is a bit more subtle, mine is more flamboyant. It’s always no problem for us to strike a balance and that’s our goal.

We first met on a get-together of Stilmagazin, an online forum about classic menswear. I think this also shows how passionate we are about what we do. I already had the idea to start a tie label when I met Niels. In fact I took sewing lessons and learned to make ties myself. We quickly became good friends and I recognized we think similiar about so many things. So we decided to run Shibumi together and that was definitely a good idea.

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Tell us more about your favorite Shibumi tie. How many ties do you own?

I own every Shibumi tie we made since we started making ties (about 60). Additionally I got only 3 non-Shibumi ties – 2 with a sentimental value and 1 heirloom. My favorite is a Shibumi burgundy floral printed silk tie with hand rolled edges. I like printed silk best because I love neat floral prints, the depth of color, the knot and the texture of the fabric. I also prefer ties with hand rolled edges, because of (unnecessary) handwork and I love looking at the hand rolling several times a day. True story. Burgundy and forest green are my favorite colors for accessories, because I often wear blue and a navy suit with a burgundy tie is always a winner.

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How would you define yourself in terms of style?

That’s hard to say. I think one of the most important aspects for me is that I do dress classically, but never old-fashioned or as a costume. I very much believe in the contemporariness of suit and tie because there is nothing a man looks better in.

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What is your favorite shoemaker and what is your favorite pair of shoes?

I don’t really have a favorite shoemaker, but I think I would mention Spigola / Koji Suzuki. Moreover I’m enthusiastic about Carmina, Gaziano & Girling and Saint Crispin’s. I love all my shoes, but at the moment my favorite pair of shoes are cognac brown quarter brogues made by Cheaney.

What common tie-wearing offenses men most often make?

Windsor knots! There are only two knots you can tie without looking awful: four-in-hand and double four-in-hand (Prince Albert).

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What types of fabrics do you use and where do you source them? 

Well, I guess if you know how to do it, nothing is hard. We do mostly use silk fabrics in different types, but also some other seasonal fabrics: printed silk, woven silk (repp stripes, grenadine, shantung), linen and wool. We only work together with very old companies with a long corporate history and heritage and an appreciation for real craftsmanship. Our printed silk  comes from a more than 100 year old manufactory in England and they still use the same handprinting method they used a 100 years ago. As a result of this method, the colors have more depth and richness, the surface is matt and dry. That’s why I love this silk best. Our woven silk like repp stripes and grenadine comes from Como, Italy. This small manufactory is also more than a 100 years old and to us, they make the best woven silk in the whole world.

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What are the hallmarks of a Shibumi piece? What makes them different from any other tie?

All Shibumi ties are made by hand in Italy in an unbeaten quality and in tasteful designs. All our ties have a beautiful flower stitching on the back – a decorative detail that gives our ties a unique touch. We do offer every tie in two different widths (8cm and 9cm) and we do always have a few ties in shorter length (140cm) and longer length (160cm) on stock. In addition we offer a great customer service: our customers can ask us really everything about our products and general style questions (and yes, they make use of that). We also meet with customers to show them our products and chatting with them is always great fun.

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What do you try to achive in terms of aestetichs? 

Difficult subject, because I don’t think about that anymore. I don’t try anything, I just do it. Of course I follow traditional and also some personal rules, but I don’t try to imitate a certain look and don’t care about labeling my style. Maybe you could describe it as Ivy League meets Napoli. But that sounds very corny.

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How could you recomand someone tell a quality tie from an inferior one? 

It’s really difficult to tell someone what he should consider if he doesn’t have the necessary knowledge to see and feel the difference. There is a huge difference between high-quality and inferior silk: inferior silk is mostly a bit shiny, thin, therefore very damageable and has no color depth. The interlining should be made from wool instead of synthetic fabrics and the thread should be silk or maybe cotton. A tie should always be sewn by hand and be self tipped or hand rolled. Facing in a different fabric has almost always a cost-saving reason and it looks awful.

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What other items can be found at Shibumi?

We do also offer a small but nice range of silk and linen pocket squares, bow ties, braces, scarfs, ascots and glasses cases. In the near future we’ll add socks to our product range – plain over the calf socks in subtle, but also in fancy colors and in addition some classic patterns like herringbone and dots.

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Who is your current customer? 

Our customer is an aficionado with appreciation for high-quality workmanship and a damn good taste. He loves our designs and quality and – I hope – he likes how Niels and I present us and Shibumi.

What is the brand direction for the future?

We plan to expand our tie range, especially classic patterns on more unusual materials (think Shantung or grenadine stripes) and launch a bespoke tie service with some selected fabrics.

Will there be any collaborations between Shibumi and other brands in the future?

There are no plans at the moment, but I won’t exclude collaborations in the longer term.

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What is your favorite word?

Schlawiner. It’s a German word for something like a rascal, but the meaning is more playful than derogatory.

What is your least favorite word?

Gentleman.

What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?

creatively: movies (Woody Allen!), art (36 Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai) and Berlin
spiritually: talks with friends
emotionally: music (Velvet Underground, Nico, Pink Floyd)

What turns you off ?

Dumb and boring people.

What is your favorite curse word?

Douche (bag).

What sound or noise do you love?

Vinyl crackle.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Filing finger nails.

What profession would you not like to do?

Any nine-to-five office job. That would kill me.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

I hope that heaven exists, anything else would really, really scare me. I don’t mind what God will say, as long as he wears a Shibumi tie.

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