There’s something a little subversive about a Lee Allison tie. Tucked between the lapels of a gray flannel suit, it appears at first like any other quietly conservative neckwear: silky, richly colored, discreetly patterned. But look again. The iconography that marches across its breadth was plucked from the debris of a fallen civilization. Martini glasses. Pink flamingos. Bowling pins. It’s the good life, circa 1955, waving like a banner of independence over the shirt fronts of legions of 1990s corporate types. Like the good life itself, a Lee Allison tie (he prefers the old fashioned term "four-in-hand") does not come cheap. The designs, custom-woven in Europe and hand-sewn in Chicago, sell for around $80.
Allison himself is a defector from the 9-to-5 world. A Harvard MBA, he worked as an investment banker and advertising executive before launching his line of ties in 1995. The first collection included patterns of vintage typewriter keys, retro TV sets, playing cards, telephones, and a genial little stogy-smoking man named "Cigar Joe."
As his collection has grown to include bow ties, suspenders, and pillows, Allison has continued to mine the nostalgic icons of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s with everything from toy jacks to atomic symbols. Tugging at the cultural memory, Allison has invented a new vocabulary of patterns that are familiar but quirkily and unmistakably his own. By Margaret Moore