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Chicago Sun Times
August 1999
Fit to be tied
Designer Allison lets quality do the talking by Lisa Lenoir

While top-name companies often pay big bucks to get their products placed in the hottest movies, others just sit back and let the product sell itself. Such is the case for Chicago tie designer Lee Allison.

His black and silver-striped tie graces the neck of Pierce Brosnan in the new movie "The Thomas Crown Affair." And Allison didnít have to "place" the neckwear at all. The tie was picked out at a Barneys New York in California and paired with a Gianni Campagna three-piece suit.

"It is more flattering when the stylist is going, like normal people, into stores and buying my stuff," Allison says.

He says he didnít discover the tieís prominent role in the film until he saw Brosnanís photo in a fashion trade magazine story about product placement. "There was Pierce wearing my tie, and I wasnít jumping through the hoops. I didnít have to do anything." His only claim to fame is designing top-quality ties.

Since starting his business in 1995, Allison has been appealing to men with style and humor. "Conversational" ties are his specialty-whether itís typewriter keys, retro advertising symbols, bowling pins, keyholes, televisions or an eight ball. He also does more subtle prints plus vertical and diagonal stripes.

Brosnan isnít the only one to wear Allisonís tie. Conan OíBrien has been spotted wearing one, and the waitstaffs at Bistro 110 and Blackhawk Lodge also don his neckwear.

"Ties are the most expressive part of a manís wardrobe," he says. "I saw an opportunity to inject some humor [into them] and make a top-notch product." His $75-$85 ties are sold here at Barneys, Jolie Joli, June Blaker Inc. and Shirts on Sheffield.

Becoming a tie designer was a slow process. Allison spent his early days on Wall Street and was introduced not only to the financial world, but the "clothes as well."

But he itching to do something more creative. He thought about being an architect and took courses in art, photography and drawing. But he didnít act on the impulse. He then attended Harvard Business School and concentrated on advertising. After graduation, he headed to Chicago to work for Leo Burnett.

There, he was able to be both professional and creative, working as an account executive and a copywriter for commercials. But he soon grew tired and decided to try his hand at designing ties. The reason: It didnít require a lot of capital, and he didnít have to learn a trade.

"I needed a pure outlet. It could have been a variety of things. But I picked ties to get started. I think of it as a springboard to move onto other things. I have always liked clothes."

Located in a 5,000-square-foot loft at 1820 W. Webster, he and his staff of one crank out computer-generated designs and then translate them into woven silk ties, lined with wool. The fabric is made in Switzerland, England and Austria, and the bolts are shipped to Chicago and New York, where they are cut and sewn by hand.

"There is a certain luster and texture with woven silk. There is a richness you donít get from [screen] prints. "The [idea] process is constant. I get a lot of ideas from travels on planes and trains. We do fun things that are a little irreverent."

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